Gut Erosion

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

It is a fact that we are riddled by the overriding premise that microbes, or microorganisms, are our ecological foes and that they are meant only to be destroyed. This is how the origin of the word, ‘bug,’ first came into vogue for bacteria — illustrating a creepy sense of apprehension for all tiny, eerie insects too, or the ‘hateful bugle’ in the mind and ear, crawling all over everything.

Glyphosate was not too long ago hailed as the ‘safest’ herbicide in history. New research suggests that it may be harming us in ways we’ve just begun to understand. In addition, a new body of growing research has pulled the question bell with the ringtone as to how long traces of glyphosate, a powerful weed killer, can linger in the food we eat, or the crops that livestock feed on. The irony, of course, is not many people are willing to distinguish the recent ‘rule’ change — from the ‘safest’ herbicide ever invented to being just ‘not safe,’ like some of its ilk, past and present.

The big alarm signal, as on-going research suggests, is glyphosate harms our microbiome, or internal ecology. This is one side of the story, because many of us have just begun to floppily understand the inner recesses of our body — more importantly, how our own microbiome affects our health.

When intrepid research efforts sequenced DNA from microorganisms derived from our armpits, belly buttons and other locations, they found minuscule versions of ecosystems a la the Alps composed of trillions of microbes. In their totality, this invisible mass of organisms is our microbiome. Research estimates that they make up as much as five kg of our body weight. A vast majority of human microbiomes, comprising of 10 trillion to 100 trillion cells and thousands of other species, also include over eight million unique gene types.

As most of us would know, bacteria produce essential vitamins, natural body chemicals, such as anti-inflammatories and other compounds that ‘power’ our metabolism by breaking down food. Though they encompass most of our microbiome framework, it was only recently that we’ve delved into studying them in-depth and understanding — if not fully though — as to what exactly they are doing, albeit such a barely perceptible mass has, in all probability, evolved since the beginning of time. Research also suggests that it is probable that our microbiome protects us from illnesses. When its equilibrium is disturbed, it may also possibly trigger them. 

Long & Short Of It

Proponents of glyphosate would certainly not acquiesce. This is because most would argue that it is not as toxic as the wonder drug aspirin, for instance, even if one has a strong case against the latter. From the research point-of-view glyphosate is not well absorbed by our digestive tract — more than 98 per cent of it passes right through us. In addition, its mode of action involves a biochemical process that is specific to microorganisms and plants. This is known as the ‘shikimate pathway’ — which we human beings lack. Be that as it may, glyphosate is evidenced to get into water and affect aquatic life, leading to a dreadful loss of amphibians, the guardians of our ecosystem.

We are not looking at the damage to soil that glyphosate can cause yet, not to speak of its impact on beneficial soil microbes and encumbrance on the natural growth of plants, including those that are genetically-modified [GM] to resist the herbicide. Wait a minute. When you add a contentious body of independent, new research, you are witness to an alarming prospect — that glyphosate may trigger abortion and sterility in farm animals. What next? We are not sure yet.

Other research studies, likewise, implicate that glyphosate may be just as toxic to human placental cells, especially in farm workers exposed to high concentrations. This is not all. Studies in Europe have found that glyphosate levels in human urine exceeded ‘safe drinking water’ limits. All the same, advocates of the herbicide insist that farmers do not use ‘pure’ glyphosate anyway — they also argue that there are far more toxic ingredients than glyphosate used in the world today.

The counter-punch is there are some indubitable reasons why more and more people are being exposed to the dangers of glyphosate. It is a different thing that research cannot disrupt, or tweak, our metabolic process. What actually wobbles such a process are microbes — in addition, we may be harming our inner biological canvas with other powerful gut, or intestinal, herbicides whose deleterious effects have not been fully understood, or established. As research grapples with newer pesticides and herbicides and explores the idea, the jury is out that glyphosate may also exterminate several species of beneficial, or ‘good,’ gut bacteria, while not affecting harmful, or ‘bad,’ gut bacteria, like E. coli — the cause of epidemics in cattle. One shudders to think of the likely impact the same bacteria, which have colonised the human species, may possibly have.

Our gut bacteria play a key role in maintaining our health and wellness. On the contrary, an unhealthy microbiome, as new studies reveal, may trigger obesity and inflammatory diseases of the gut, such as inflammatory bowel disease [IBD]. Newer research also points out to a potential long-list of health disorders that glyphosate, in combination with other environmental toxins, could contribute to — depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] — also referred to as motor neurone disease — multiple sclerosis, infertility, developmental defects, cancer, and so on.

Paradigm Shift A Must

It is imperative, in the whole context, that we warily took a fresh, new look at the origin of our food. Here is how it goes. Conventionally-produced vegetarian produce and animal products are often grown, or fed from farming practices that make use of factory-farmed manure and raw human sewage. The fact today is animal and human excreta are extraordinarily toxic. They apparently include a vast array of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hormones and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, not to speak of pathogens that taint our food and also our bodies — if we opt to eat them, which we do because of certain compulsions. We are not talking of another perilous dimension yet — the use of nuclear waste-based food irradiation and bacteriophage sprays, to disinfect inherently toxic food, which produce different and far more hazardous compounds as a consequence.

All the same, there’s another paradox that dawdles us — non-organic lobbies are increasing the amounts of anti-microbial pesticides and herbicides in our food. What is worse — we do not have adequate data as to how much we’re exposed to such chemicals, in the first instance, on the periphery, and within us, or elsewhere.

We ought to go, lock, stock and barrel, for a paradigm change, if not a simple shift, and drastically alter our understanding of health and illness, if we are to endure the indiscriminate demolition of our biosphere, while refraining from supporting, endorsing, buying, or consuming food produced through dubious non-organic, or chemical, farming practices. We need to respect and revere our body too — which is encased grandeur, derived from the molecular framework of the cosmos. If we don’t, we will have to only blame ourselves for genetically-modifying [GM] not only nature and the environment, but also vilifying ourselves — in mind, body, spirit and soul.

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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