Having just completed most of a 1700 mile epic family move, I have spent a great deal of time on the road driving…and thinking. One of the things I thought about a great deal was how come so many people experience an imbalanced microbiome, with not enough of some good bacteria and way too many of some toxic species. You see, the human body is an ecosystem (somewhat like a region or territory), with warring factions of bacterial species or sub-colonies, each striving to rise to the top and suppress its enemies to achieve a dominant role. It really is a bit more like a microbial Game of Thrones episode than a benign fireside chat!
In this bacterial jousting we have a number of “white knights” such as some Enterococcus species and some “black knights” such as many members of the Clostridium family. Remember that Clostridium is the bacterial clan whose progeny include Clostridium difficile, responsible for hospital-borne bloody life-threatening diarrhea, and Clostridium botulinum that produces the neurotoxin responsible for Botulism. Definitely more of a “black knight clan.”
Researchers (Ackermann et al) have found that glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp weedkiller, caused dysbiosis in the rumen of cows and resulted in increased production of Clostridium botulinum and botulin neurotoxin. This alone is significant, as these are meat animals for many non-vegan/vegetarian humans. Another study headed by Kruger suggests that glyphosate’s suppression of lactic acid and Enterococcus bacteria is probably responsible for the increase in botulin-related diseases in German cattle. This is because lactic acid bacteria and Enterococcus family bacteria are natural suppressors of the Clostridium family. When Clostridium loses its natural enemy, it is free to claim the throne of bacterial domination! Seriously though, you may be thinking this is only in cattle so why does it matter in humans?
Another research group described a case of glyphosate ingestion which resulted in a Clostridium overgrowth after suppression of Enterococcus family bacteria. While this case study was an attempted suicide and therefore a significant ingestion of the chemical, studies of low-level environmental intake have also show toxic effects to the liver and kidney (Mesnage) and a correlation between glyphosate use and hospital admissions for ADHD (Fluegge). These studies indicate that glyphosate’s biologic toxicity is maintained at very low concentrations. Normally, lactic acid bacteria (yes, part of the white knight microbial clan!) help prevent this liver and kidney damage (Bouhafs) but as glyphosate is toxic to this family of bacteria their guarding of the bacterial throne is hampered, allowing Clostridia to attain more power and toxicity.
What all this boils down to at the end of the melee and before the final credits is that RoundUp is toxic to many life forms including humans, but it is toxic in a back-handed, subversive manner that is not immediately obvious without much study. This ability to facilitate growth of toxic bacteria while suppressing protective ones and maintaining an appearance of feigned innocence is what reminded me of Game of Thrones. As this is real life, my hope is that more people will begin learning about the toxicity of RoundUp and the importance of a balanced microbiome. This knowledge can only help us to build a healthier life for ourselves and our planet despite those “dark forces” that would rob us of the “throne of power and health.”
Thanks for reading my attempts at fantasy medieval microbial humor! I hope the analogy and metaphor helps to make the subject just a bit clearer and perhaps even entertaining. For more on the subject of the microbiome and health, please check out my book The Symbiont Factor on Amazon, and stay tuned for the next book about how to apply these concepts to your everyday life so that you too can have a White Knight Microbiome!