Roundup Toxicity May Impact Male Fertility: Study

Male Fertility

Story at-a-glance -

  • Research is mounting that an environmental toxicant, especially an endocrine-disrupting chemical such as glyphosate in Roundup, may be involved in increasing rates of male infertility
  • Roundup exposure induced cell death in Sertoli cells (required for male sexual development and sperm health) in rat testis
  • The exposure was a low dose (36 parts per million), which is well within the US Environmental Protection Agency’s food safety exposure levels
  • Separate research showed that glyphosate led to severe oxidative stress in male testes, which leads to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS); ROS is linked to male infertility

By Dr. Mercola

In 2011, Purdue University professor emeritus Don Huber notified US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, with a letter warning that tests show glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, may be contributing to spontaneous abortions and infertility in pigs, cattle, and other livestock.

This wasn't the first time the chemical had been implicated as a threat to fertility, nor was it the last. Steep declines in human male sperm counts have been occurring alongside rises in birth defects of the male reproductive tract, and now new research suggests increasing exposure to glyphosate and Roundup may be at least partially to blame.

There's No Denying Trends in Infertility and Poor Semen Quality

A new report from the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) has highlighted what appears to be the perfect storm for an "infertility time-bomb," courtesy of Roundup.1 Average sperm counts have dropped by nearly half in the last 50 years, even among men without fertility problems.

Further, ISIS noted, 20 percent of young European men have sperm counts below the World Health Organization (WHO) reference level of 20 m/ml, and 40 percent have levels below 40 m/ml, which is associated with prolonging the time to pregnancy. Meanwhile, rates of conditions that impact semen quality and fertility are also on the rise. ISIS noted the following, in particular:

"Testicular germ cell cancer (TGC), which has been rising in the last five decades. Congenital malformations of the male reproductive tract, including undescended testes and incomplete fusion of the urethral folds that form the penis. Low testosterone."

There are, of course, many potential explanations for these conditions, but, as ISIS noted, it has been proposed that an environmental toxicant, especially an endocrine-disrupting chemical such as glyphosate, may be involved. ISIS explained:

"In Europe, incidences of TGC and congenital reproductive tract malformations have been going up coincidentally with a downward trend in semen quality and testosterone levels…

These disorders share common risk factors and are risk factors for one another. Consequently, it has been proposed that the conditions collectively may represent a syndrome -- a testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS) -- caused by a common underlying causal factor, which is either a change in lifestyle or an environmental toxin, especially endocrine disrupting chemicals such as pesticides."

Roundup Linked to Male Infertility Even at Low Doses

Of particular concern is a study published in December 2013, which revealed that Roundup exposure induced cell death in Sertoli cells in prepubertal rat testis.2 Sertoli cells are required for male sexual development, including maintaining the health of sperm cells.

The exposure was a low dose (36 parts per million), which is well within the US Environmental Protection Agency's food safety levels.3 After 30 minutes of exposure, researchers found that Roundup yielded several disruptions to the cells' health, including:

  • Induced oxidative stress
  • Activated multiple stress-response pathways
  • Increased intracellular calcium concentration, leading to calcium overload and cell death

The researchers proposed:

"Roundup toxicity, implicated in Ca(2+) [calcium] overload, cell signaling misregulation, stress response of the endoplasmic reticulum, and/or depleted antioxidant defenses, could contribute to Sertoli cell disruption in spermatogenesis that could have an impact on male fertility."

It's the latest in a series of studies that have pointed toward Roundup's troubling impacts on fertility and reproductive health. Other studies have similarly found:4

  • Prepubertal exposure to glyphosate alters testosterone levels and is a potent endocrine disruptor5
  • Exposure to concentrations as low as 1 part per million (ppm) of Roundup and glyphosate decreased testosterone in rat sperm cells by 35 percent6
  • Exposure to Roundup may alter the structure of the testis in ducks, leading researchers to conclude the herbicide may "cause disorder in the morphophysiology of the male genital system of animals"7
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Is Roundup-Induced Oxidative Stress Harming Sperm?

A separate study published last year further showed that glyphosate (in combination with another pesticide) led to severe oxidative stress in male testes.8 This may be a key reason for Roundup's endocrine-disrupting effects, as oxidative stress leads to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS are known to induce DNA damage and decrease sperm counts, linking them closely with male infertility. As ISIS reported:

"ROS is so closely linked to male infertility that infertile males generating high levels of ROS are 7 times less likely to initiate a pregnancy compared with those with low levels of ROS. A meta-analysis demonstrated that ROS levels were significantly correlated with the fertilization rate in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization. …[Researchers have] concluded that high ROS is an independent marker of MFI [male factor infertility], irrespective of whether these patients have normal or abnormal semen parameters."

Roundup May Be Even More Toxic Than Glyphosate

While glyphosate is often blamed for much of Roundup's toxicity, Roundup is a glyphosate-based pesticide with adjuvants. These adjuvants, it turns out, may be toxic in their own right, as well as may act synergistically with glyphosate to greatly heighten its damaging effects.

POEA (polyethoxylated tallowamine), a major adjuvant surfactant in Roundup, has been shown to be cytotoxic (toxic to cells) at doses far lower than glyphosate itself. Unfortunately, most regulatory bodies regard POEA as inert, requiring no risk assessment, even as research suggests otherwise. ISIS reported:

"The major adjuvant POEA in glyphosate Roundup formulations is by far the most cytotoxic for human cells, ahead of glyphosate and its metabolite. It also amplifies the toxic effects of glyphosate…

It is very likely that the primary target of Roundup, especially its POEA surfactant, is the mitochondria, which play a key role in the development of sperm cells and sperm motility. In addition, male infertility could arise from ROS damages to mitochondrial DNA."

Glyphosate May Contribute to Numerous Chronic Diseases

Glyphosate has a number of devastating biological effects, so much so that it may very well be one of the most important factors in the development of a wide variety of modern diseases and conditions. According to a peer-reviewed report9 authored by Anthony Samsel, a retired science consultant, and Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), these detrimental effects include:

Nutritional deficiencies, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop

Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet)

Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself)

Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency

Systemic toxicity—a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens

Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut, and food allergies such as gluten intolerance)

Enhancement of damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes

Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer's disease

REMEMBER -- If You Eat Processed Foods, You're Eating Glyphosate

You'd be wise to stop using Roundup around your home, where children and pets can come into contact with it simply by walking across the area. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Roundup (and glyphosate) exposure. It's important to understand that the glyphosate sprayed on conventional and genetically modified (GM) crops actually become systemic throughout the plant, so it cannot be washed off. It's inside the plant. For example, genetically engineered corn has been found to contain 13 ppm of glyphosate compared to zero in non-GMO corn. Organ damage in animals has occurred at levels as low as 0.1 ppm or 130 times the "safe" human EPA limit.

The vast majority of processed foods sold in the US are made with GM corn and soy ingredients. So if you consume such foods, you should know you're also consuming glyphosate. Tests show that people in 18 countries across Europe already have glyphosate in their bodies.10 The answer, of course, is to avoid processed foods of all kinds, as they're virtually guaranteed to contain GM ingredients, and center your diet around whole, organic foods, as toxic pesticides (and GM ingredients) are not permitted in organic farming.

Vote with Your Pocketbook, Every Day

The food companies on the left of this graphic spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two labeling campaigns—in California and Washington State—to prevent you from knowing what's in your food. You can even the score by switching to the brands on the right, all of whom stood behind the I-522 Right to Know campaign. Voting with your pocketbook, at every meal, matters. It makes a huge difference.

Washington State GMO Labeling Initiative

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As always, I encourage you to continue educating yourself about genetically modified foods, and to share what you've learned with family and friends. Remember, unless a food is certified organic, you can assume it contains GMO ingredients if it contains sugar from sugar beet, soy, or corn, or any of their derivatives.

If you buy processed food, opt for products bearing the USDA 100% Organic label, as organics do not permit GMOs. You can also print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. Alternatively, download their free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications. For more in-depth information, I highly recommend reading the following two books, authored by Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology:

  • Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating
  • Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.

For timely updates, join the Non-GMO Project on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. Please, do your homework. Together, we have the power to stop the chemical technology industry from destroying our food supply, the future of our children, and the earth as a whole. All we need is about 5 percent of American shoppers to simply stop buying genetically engineered foods, and the food industry would have to reconsider their source of ingredients—regardless of whether the products bear an actual GMO label or not.