Antibiotics, glyphosate, organic

Reason #1,123* to choose Organic: Antibiotic Resistance

*Ok, I can’t substantiate that number, but there significant cause for it to be dramatic…

Exposure to herbicides utilized in agriculture can contribute to antibiotic resistance – up to 100,000 times faster1. Yes, that number has a citation!

I remember the days I used to ask my wife why she bought organic when it cost more, it wasn’t that long ago.

I recently posted about how glyphosate (Roundup), an herbicide applied to many foods, can contribute to leaky gut. There are many health conditions tied to glyphosate currently2 – even cancer cases recently in court3. It is important to watch this information closely as it becomes available, because glyphosate is ubiquitous with agriculture, and you have to try hard to avoid it.

Glyphosate will likely remain the most widely applied pesticide worldwide for years to come, and interest will grow in quantifying ecological and human health impacts.

Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally
Charles M. Benbrook
Environmental Sciences EuropeBridging Science and Regulation at the Regional and European Level 20164

I have been following the research on this chemical for years now and will work to succinctly document more on this site soon. This new study caught my attention though, so I wanted to share it first.

“Agrichemicals and antibiotics in combination increase antibiotic resistance evolution”

That is the title of the study. Here are a few summary points from the article:

  • In this study we report that when bacteria are simultaneously exposed to herbicides and antibiotics, mutants with higher levels of resistance can evolve. In some cases, resistance evolved 100,000 times faster.
  • Simultaneous herbicide and antibiotic exposures are common. Herbicides are used in agriculture, where spray drift or walking through treated fields exposes farm livestock and pets, which may be on therapeutic or prophylactic antibiotics. Most ingested antibiotic is not metabolized and thus excreted (Chee-Sanford et al., 2009), becoming mixed with soil as crop fertilizer which in situ may be subsequently sprayed with herbicide. Microbes from these mixes may be carried by blow- and house-flies (Zurek & Ghosh, 2014). Likewise honeybees may be exposed to herbicide spray or residues as they forage and return to an antibiotic-treated hive. Additionally, herbicides are used in urban environments for purposes like gardening and lawn care, including parks and roadsides 
  • Neither reducing the use of antibiotics nor discovery of new ones may prevent the post-antibiotic era. This is because bacteria may be exposed to other non-antibiotic chemicals that predispose them to evolve resistance to antibiotics more quickly. Herbicides are examples of some of the most common non-antibiotic formulations in frequent global use.

Antibiotic Resistance

Many people have heard of this, and it is a growing concern in the medical arena.

Key facts:
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.

Antibiotic resistance can affect anyone, of any age, in any country.

Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.

A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.

Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.

world health organization5

The CDC has been circulating strategies to the public and medical provider population for many years now. Here one of the FAQ’s on their site:

Q: Why are bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics?
A: Overuse and misuse of antibiotics allows the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria (bacteria that antibiotics can still attack) are killed, but resistant bacteria are left to grow and multiply. This is how repeated use of antibiotics can increase the number of drug-resistant bacteria.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Widespread use of antibiotics for these illnesses is an example of how overuse of antibiotics can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is key to controlling the spread of resistance.

CDC.gov6

Since pharmacy school, I have been preached the importance of antibiotic appropriateness, yet still, we don’t see a change in the problem at large.

Glyphosate is an antibiotic

The study mentioned herbicides in combination with antibiotics increase resistance. WHO/CDC both mention overuse being a major contributory problem. Glyphosate is patented as an antibiotic7. My math says glyphosate plus an antibiotic is double the exposure. Overuse or misuse maybe? The evidence indicates to me that focusing on prescribing habits of antibiotics, while important for many reasons, is only half the story. Medical providers, in my experience, are writing antibiotic prescriptions more in line with CDC guidance than years past, but the resistance problem is not getting any better. Glyphosate aiding the resistance mechanism certainly helps form the other half of the story.

Action

Organic is the best when feasible/practical. The Environmental Working Group helps on the practical, letting us know which you can skip the organic and which should be mandatory organic. Organic products are increasing in demand. The more people that seek these products out, the benefits could be two-fold; they should become cheaper and hopefully, the herbicide use will decrease.

While choosing organic won’t fix the whole problem, or protect you entirely from resistant bugs, I believe it is a useful action to take. The study added herbicides with antibiotics to bacteria in a petri dish to produce the evidence. I prefer not to add glyphosate to the collection of bacteria in my petri dish.

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  1. https://peerj.com/articles/5801/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/
  3. https://www.npr.org/2018/10/23/659848853/california-judge-cuts-award-to-78-5-million-in-monsanto-weedkiller-case
  4. https://enveurope.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s12302-016-0070-0
  5. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/about/antibiotic-resistance-faqs.html
  7. United States Patent 7,771,736

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