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Organic Food, Wheat, and Glyphosate: Surprising Interconnectedness?

The greatest reason to recommend organic foods to our clients is not that they taste better.  And not that they are more nutritious.  The primary benefit is that organic food does NOT include a whole host of toxic chemicals.  It has been well-demonstrated that pesticides are absorbed by the GI tract, often cause an inflammatory reaction in the body, and contribute to the toxin burden that the liver must detoxify to allow the body to excrete them.  There are literally hundreds of clinical studies documenting the possible contribution of pesticides and herbicides to ailments from hypertension to breast and prostate cancer to multiple sclerosis.

A recent article in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology highlights the possible contribution of herbicides to celiac disease (an autoimmune reaction to gluten that damages the intestines and causes nutrient malabsorption).  This article is not a gold-standard study in any way; it’s a clinical hypothesis with correlated data, but the argument is fascinating.

Glyphosphate and Celiac


Typical human digestive function does not contain all the digestive enzymes needed to fully digest and absorb the gluten protein (the most prevalent protein in wheat, which is also in many other grains such as spelt, barley, and rye).  Thus, gluten residue remains in the human intestines longer than most other common foods and can have a more substantial impact on our immune system (2/3 of which is housed in the gut).  It’s also been shown that the immune system is programmed to react more aggressively to gluten protein  in most people because it is “sticky” and draws more attention from our sentinel cells.  We also know that gluten promotes intestinal permeability in the guts of many people by promoting higher secretion of a protein called zonulin.  This intestinal permeability is a critical factor in triggering autoimmune disease and greater environmental sensitivity.   There are many reasons to explore the elimination of gluten, or at least wheat, for our clients struggling with systemic, chronic inflammation (or those who have a strong history of it).

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the common herbicide Round-Up, has already been shown (in animal studies) to be a potent estrogen mimicker, to damage the villous folds and villi in the intestines, and to promote microbial imbalance in the gut which promotes the growth of pathogens.  Given the heavy use of Round-Up on conventionally raised wheat crops, the high intake of wheat in the average American diet, and the higher scrutiny the immune system gives to gluten overall, this does seem to be a perfect storm for creating intestinal permeability and then possibly celiac disease and many other autoimmune diseases.  (I’ve talked about intestinal permeability before and how to help your clients to overcome it.)

Taking this hypothesis further, could the common use of glyphosate (and other conventional chemicals) on a wide variety of foods be contributing to the explosive increase in many other food allergies/sensitivities, especially in children?  Even Round-Up’s supposedly “inert” ingredients have been shown to amplify the toxic cellular impact of glyphosate.

Make sure your client understands clear, clinical reasons for purchasing organic food!  Yes, they cost more and are harder to find.  One of our opportunities as coaches is to help them to feel inspired and confident in making that choice for their self-care and then sustaining it long-term.  Many clients “fall off the wagon” because they aren’t sufficiently inspired.  Don’t let that happen on your watch.  Your clients need your inspiration!

P.S. If you know that healthcare must be transformed to be sustainable and effective, and you believe strongly that Functional Medicine is key to making that happen, we urge you to learn about our semester program.

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