Is Roundup Really All That Dangerous?

Updated: Jan 13

It's time to transcend the politics, the belief systems, the narrow-minded reality tunnels. It's time to get serious about being evidence-based when it comes to eating organic food.

So are organics actually safer? Well, that depends on how we answer this next question:

Is Roundup Really all that Dangerous?

A study entitled “Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide” says:

In all likelihood, YES.

So they used an "ultra-low dose"? That's interesting. Just how low of a dose are we talking about exactly?

Four nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day.

A large adult rat can weigh around 500 grams, or half a kilo, which means that these animals were receiving somewhere in the ballpark of 2 billionths of a gram [0.000000002 grams] per day.

To put that in perspective, a single grain of salt might weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of half a milligram. Doing a little bit of quick math, we can conclude that a single crystal of Roundup about the size of a grain of salt would be sufficient to perform this study on about 340 rats for two years.

So, when the authors say “ultra-low dose”, they really mean it.

Why did they pick such a low dose? Because, as the authors noted, previous studies on animals may have used unrealistically high doses:

"...It should be noted that most results from these…studies were obtained at doses far greater than general human population exposure. Doses tested were typically over the glyphosate acceptable daily intake (ADI), which is currently set at 0.3 mg/kg bw/day within the European Union (1.75 mg/kg bw/day in the USA)."

What’s also fascinating about this comment is that the acceptable daily intake of glyphosate is almost 6 times higher in the United States than it is in Europe. I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusions on why that may be the case, given that both countries have access to the same scientific papers.

[Note also that this study used Roundup, which is a combination of the active compound Glyphosate plus various adjuvants, better approximating the nature of exposure in the real world.]

So, in the United States, it’s considered safe to consume 1.75 mg/kg of Roundup per day, which is over 400,000 times more than what they gave these animals.

So now that we’ve established a relative idea of just how little Roundup was used, let’s talk about the evidence. In the words of the authors:

“Proteins significantly disturbed…were involved in organonitrogen metabolism and fatty acid β-oxidation. Proteome disturbances reflected peroxisomal proliferation, steatosis and necrosis. The metabolome analysis…confirmed lipotoxic conditions and oxidative stress by showing an activation of glutathione and ascorbate free radical scavenger systems. Additionally, we found metabolite alterations associated with hallmarks of hepatotoxicity…disturbances showed a substantial overlap with biomarkers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease…and thus confirm liver dysfunction resulting from chronic ultra-low dose [Roundup] exposure.”

Multiomics is not a cheap way to do a study. It’s basically the most expensive, cutting-edge way to do research of this type. A colleague of mine referred to this as a “bomb-proof” study, meaning that it would be nearly impossible to refute based on the lengths the authors went to study the wide variety of biochemical effects of Roundup on these poor, innocent rats.

Oh the rats. Why do we torture them so? Maybe one day we'll figure out a less barbarous approach to research. I digress...

To summarize and simplify:

  • After being given extremely low amounts of Roundup for 2 years, the rats were chemically analyzed

  • In total, 673 chemical compounds were looked at, including proteins, enzymes, and a wide variety of other compounds, including critical components of normal cell metabolism

  • Over 60 of these compounds were altered in a statistically significant manner, implying serious disruption of normal metabolism and cellular functionality

  • Antioxidant pathways were altered, indicating an increase in oxidative stress [glutathione depletion]

  • Biomarkers of liver fibrosis were elevated [N-methylproline]

  • Significant changes in mitochondrial function were noted [impairment of fatty acid oxidation via an increase of acylcarnitines and depletion of nicotinamide riboside]

To summarize and simplify even further:

Given at a dose that’s less than 1/400,000th the acceptable daily intake for humans in the US, Roundup gave these rats Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and seriously affected core metabolic processes required for cellular functionality, such as energy production, metabolism of toxins, and antioxidant performance.

So, next time someone is trying to tell you not to bother with eating organic, and that pesticides are perfectly safe, ask them if they're interested in science. If so, refer them to this paper. If not, then have them go on their merry way.


© 2019 by Matt Dorsey, BSc, MAcOM, LAc