An article recently published in the open-access journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology presented a theory that the increasing rates of celiac disease observed in North America and Europe are due to the increasing use of the herbicide Roundup, specifically its active ingredient glyphosate.
However, the authors of this article, which was detailed and lengthy, made that what is only a theory, or hypothesis, look like fact. The idea of a relationship between this herbicide and celiac disease spread quickly. In reality, there is no actual evidence, just a lot of speculation.
The journal publishing the paper is from the Slovak Republic, and the Editor-in-Chief is Michal Dubovický, from the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology & Toxicology, the Slovak Academy of Sciences, in the Slovak Republic. The editors are almost all toxicologists from the Slovak Republic.
There are so many faulty assumptions and outright errors in this paper that it is unnecessary to explain every one of them. Just laying out some of the facts is enough. With what you know about celiac disease or can discover by doing just a little research, you will see mistakes in the very first sentence of what is called the “abstract” or summary of the article.
The authors state, “Celiac disease, and, more generally, gluten intolerance, is a growing problem worldwide, but especially in North America and Europe, where an estimated 5% of the population now suffers from it.” They then go on to treat these celiac disease and gluten intolerance as if they are identical. They go on to use their “evidence” to explain how glyphosate causes the serious conditions associated with celiac disease.
Gluten sensitivity is not celiac disease. It is poorly understood, and occurs when people have symptoms when they eat gluten that go away when they do not. These individuals test negative for celiac disease and do not develop the complications or problems that people with celiac disease often do. It is not clear how many people have gluten sensitivity since there is no universally accepted way of diagnosing it at this time. It is also unclear where the number 5% came from, but it is not the percentage of people with celiac disease. In North America and Europe, the prevalence or rates of celiac disease are about 1%. For the sake of completeness, it could also be added that the rates of celiac disease are going up in other areas of the world where there the use of glyphosate may or may not be increasing.
Another idea floated by the authors of the study is that putting “good bacteria” into the intestinal tract of people with celiac disease is a known treatment for celiac disease. While it is true that some intestinal diseases are caused by or worsened by the replacement of the normal good bacteria in the intestine with disease-causing bacteria, and even if this might help a person with celiac disease in terms of symptoms, it is absolutely not a treatment for celiac disease.
Even when making a chart to show that the rise in celiac disease coincides with the increased use of the herbicide, the authors use hospital discharge diagnoses to get numbers of celiac disease cases. Most diagnoses of celiac disease are not made on hospitalized patients.
There is actually a simple reason why these kinds of errors are sprinkled through the article. The authors have no training in medicine or biology, and they clearly do not even understand the illness they are discussing. They list themselves as follows:
Anthony SAMSEL- Independent Scientist and Consultant, Deerfield, NH 03037, USA and Stephanie SENEFF - Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
While Seneff has degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, she has no training in medicine, healthcare, or biology. It is even less clear what training Samsel has or what degrees he might have been awarded. One must wonder what makes a self-described independent scientist and computer science/artificial intelligence laboratory scientist qualified to talk about celiac disease.
Putting aside that they do not even understand the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, their basic premise is that since a higher percentage of the population has celiac disease now, and since more of the herbicide glyphosate is in use every year, the increases in these two things at the same time mean that one caused the other. In other words, because there is more glyphosate in use today, that is why more people have celiac disease.
Most people will understand that this is not enough to make even a philosophical argument, and absolutely not enough to make claims that one chemical causes an illness. In fact, these two writers have claimed that glyphosate use has caused just about every medical problem that has become more common. In this article, along with celiac disease, they say that the herbicide causes thyroid cancer and kidney failure.
In the past, they wrote a paper that attributed the following illnesses, among others, to the herbicide use:
- Heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
All of this is based on graphs and charts showing that the increase in glyphosate parallels the increasing incidence of these diseases. This is not proof. These things may be associated in time, but one does not cause the other. It would be wonderful if we could wipe out all of these diseases by simply removing the glyphosate from food, but nothing is that simple.
Just by looking at the consumption of various foods in the United States, the amounts of olive oil, poultry, palm oil, and soy bean oil have all increased in the same way as the incidence of celiac disease. It would be as correct to say that olive oil causes celiac disease as that glyphosate does.
The authors do point to a study of fish that showed that large amounts of glyphosate can harm their intestinal tracts. It almost seems unnecessary to note that fish are so different from humans that this kind of comparison is useless. Giving them our air to breathe kills them, and putting us under water to breathe kills us.
No tests have been done to confirm the herbicide theory.
All the authors give is lists of chemical reactions and long names of enzymes in the body that can be damaged by glyphosate in theory or in a lab. While the descriptions of the way glyphosate interrupts certain chemical pathways in bacteria seem very scientific, many of these have not been proven. Those that have been studied have been studied in bacteria, not even in any animals.
While testing this theory might be difficult, something could be done to try and see if there is any truth in it. One could draw blood levels of glyphosate from people newly diagnosed with celiac disease and compare these to similar people without celiac disease, for example. Or, people with untreated celiac disease who want to test this could be recruited and treated with either a gluten-free
diet or a glyphosate-free diet to see how they do, of course without letting anyone know who got which diet (double blind study).
No one will do this study because the basic assumptions are not sound. There are strict rules governing human research. In addition to understanding the basic science, animal studies come first. None of the theories in the article have been tested on
Why did these two authors decide to write this paper and make these claims? It is important to understand that they are part of the very vocal group that opposes GMOs. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and opposition to this usually means opposition to GMOs grown for consumption. Other people opposed to GMO foods have made similar claims about their contribution to the increases in many diseases including celiac disease.
There are only nine GMO crops in the United States at the current time. These are alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, corn, cotton (oil), canola (oil), sugar from sugar beets, soy, corn, zucchini and yellow squash. They have been modified to so they can grow even in the presence of the weed killer glyphosate in Roundup. Corn and cotton have also been genetically modified so that they make an insecticide themselves called Bt-toxin.
Many people are fervently against genetically modified food, partly over the concerns about the presence of higher quantities of the weed killer in these crops. But whether or not glyphosate can be dangerous for humans is not the issue here. The question is whether or not glyphosate causes celiac disease.
Wheat has not been genetically modified in this way, only bred into different strains. There is glyphosate found in the GMO crops. If this was the cause of celiac disease, the gluten-free diet would be useless, because people would be replacing gluten-containing food with other foods that also contain glyphosate, possibly at even higher levels. The authors of the paper do say that the gluten-free diet sometimes works. If their theory was correct, it should fail, and a glyphosate-free diet would be the cure. They even use data from the United Kingdom about the amount of glyphosate in various foods.
In 2011, there was more glyphosate in chick peas and lentils, among other so-called dried beans and pulses. Anyone replacing gluten-containing foods with these foods would be getting more of the pesticide.
An internet search shows that people react strongly to this article, the authors’ previous articles, and others with similar content. It would not be reasonable to say that there are no possible risks to GMOs or herbicides, but it is safe to say that there is absolutely no proof that glyphosate is increasing the risk of celiac disease.