Could the glyphosate in your bread be harming you?

Could glyphosate in your bread be harming your health and gut microbiome? Time to switch to organic

Glyphosate in our bread
Is bread harming our health?

Bread is perhaps the oldest and most prominent of all man-made foods, it predates agriculture and there is evidence of its continuous use in some parts of the world for over 20,000 years. In essence, all you need to make bread is grains (flour) and a little water, the kneaded dough will rise (leaven) if left, because of the presence of naturally occurring sourdough microbes in the air.  Then all you have to do is bake, sounds simple, doesn’t it?

The problem is that to make a greater profit from bread production, some of the natural processes, used for tens of thousands of years, have to be modified. For example, greater mechanisation in bread production1 allows lower quality (lower protein) grains to be used, reducing the nutritional value of the bread we consume. Modern chemicals are also having an increasing role in our food production, including grain farming. The Government’s own figures show that the area treated with glyphosate in the UK increased by a quarter between 2014 – 20162.

So why the ‘glyphosate revolution’ in food production, what value does it add and what are the likely consequences to our health? Glyphosate is an active ingredient in some weedkillers, such as Roundup (developed by Monsanto). It is used on the soil to kill weeds before young plants emerge, and in the case of wheat, it is sprayed onto ripening crops to improve yields in a process called ‘drying’. We know that glyphosate is in the soil, the water, in our grain, in our bread and therefore in us3.

There was a time in our recent past when we generally believed in scientists and our government’s ability to regulate science for the common good. Health problems linked to human contact with glyphosate have been discussed for many years. In 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that the available evidence indicated glyphosate was ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans4. Over a dozen countries have banned or limited the use of glyphosate, yet in many nations, it continues to be consumed by the wider population in different forms, despite evidence of its potential to harm.

So what’s all this got to do with Gut Well Soon? Unsurprisingly some organisations that make profits from the production, sale and use of glyphosate continue to maintain, that at the levels humans ingest the substance, there is no increased risk of developing cancer. However, courts are awarding billions of dollars in damages against Monsanto following claims that exposure to Roundup caused cancers5. There is also credible evidence that glyphosate has an impact on the microbiome, even at very low levels of ingestion. Meaning that our gut health may be declining because the food we eat has been tainted with chemicals.

So what can you do about this? There are suggestions that the explosion in wheat and gluten intolerance seen over the last 20 years, might be correlated with the increasing use of chemicals in grain production. No causal link has been proven but we do know that switching to sourdough bread has benefitted the health of a large number of people with digestive problems. It seems intuitive, that by eating bread with no traces of weedkillers our health (collectively) is likely to improve. This all inevitably leads us to a conversation about switching to organic, naturally produced bread including sourdough.

Notes

1 Chorleywood Bread Process
2 Soil Association
3 Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides
4 IARC
5 The Guardian

Autism correlated with gut health

Autism correlated with guthealth. More evidence links gut bacteria to developmental disorders.

Our gut bacteria may play a role in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Our gut bacteria may play a role in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

There is mounting evidence of a relationship between the microbiome and autism. Taken in isolation one study that challenges conventional thinking about any condition such as autism should be treated with suspicion. However, increasing scientific research into gut health and wellbeing is starting to shift the thinking about human health in a completely new direction.

A number of studies have observed abnormal gut microbiota correlated with a range of conditions including autism. However, the issue of causality is still uncertain. So what does this mean?  In short that the bacteria in the human gut demonstrates a different profile in people with autism than people without autism. The scientific term for a balance and blend of gut bacteria that fall outside of the ‘normal’ range is known as dysbiosis. Exactly how gut dysbiosis is linked to autism is still far from clear. There is the possibility that dysbiosis is the effect of a condition rather than the cause of it, although we know there is a two-way relationship between the gut and the brain through the gut-brain access.

A recent overview of research into gut microbiota and dysbiosis in autism found that gut microbiota probably has a mediating role in ASD. By logical deduction, we can be confident that diet at some level is likely to be connected to the development of ASD or the maintenance of its symptoms.

So while we are waiting for science to deliver ‘conclusive’ findings that will help us understand more about autism, what shall we do?

Clearly, we should attempt to establish a healthy gut. The list of health problems linked to dysbiosis grows almost every day, they currently include a range of cancers, heart disease and even dementia! Amongst the simple measures every person can engage with immediately to keep a healthy gut, are to avoid processed meats and eat more fermented foods.

It’s far too early to draw firm conclusions about diet and complex developmental conditions such as ASD. But a picture is starting to emerge were just as diet influences gut health, gut health influences physical and mental wellbeing, there was never a greater case for embracing the maxim ‘we are what we eat’.

Fibre and your health; time for a rethink

Fibre is an essential part of the human diet, strategic reviews indicate that consuming just 30g of fibre a day is correlated to reduced risk of colon cancer, type-2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

Fibre and your health
Fibre and your health

For most of us, there is a simple thing we can do to improve our short and long-term health, eat more fibre! The role of fibre in regulating digestion has been understood by humans for hundreds of years. But the full benefits linked to fibre (also known as roughage) are only just starting to be understood. A recent study published in The Lancet1 analysed a wide range of research and found that a shortage of fibre in our diets is linked to greater risks of type-2 diabetes, bowel cancer, heart attacks and strokes. In addition, people that eat more fibre tend to have lower weight, lower blood pressure and reduced cholesterol levels. Amazingly the research suggested that consuming a mere 30g (1oz) of fibre a day was sufficient to deliver the full range of health benefits. To put this into some kind of perspective the 30g target can be reached by consuming four slices of brown bread, eating a handful of nuts and seeds in addition to the regulation five portions of fruit and veg a day. In essence, it is available to most of us with only a few small changes to our eating habits.

pile of sliced wheat breads

Fibre consumed through our diet can be divided into two types, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre is generally thought of as a prebiotic, which means it supports communities of helpful bacteria in the gut microbiome. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and typically passes through the digestive system aiding bowel movements. Most fibre rich foods contain soluble and insoluble elements, today food science is more concerned with the total amount of fibre rather than the different forms (cellulose, pectins and beta glucans) we eat.

In summary; fibre is an essential part of the human diet, strategic reviews of the available evidence strongly suggest that consuming 30g of fibre a day is correlated to a reduced risk of colon cancer, type-2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. There is a growing body of evidence that fibre also plays an important role in maintaining helpful bacteria in the gut microbiome.

Foods rich in fibre2 include;

  • Wholegrains (wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta, oats, barley,  rye and wholegrain bread).
  • Fibre-rich fruits (berries, apple, pear, melon and orange).
  • Fibre-rich vegetables (broccoli, carrot and sweetcorn).
  • A wide range of pulses, peas and beans.
  • Nuts and seeds.
  • Root crops cooked with skins on (potatoes, sweet potatoes).

Notes

1www.thelancet.com
2www.nutrition.org.uk

Breast cancer and your diet

Latest study links processed meat to increased risks of breast cancer.

Your diet and breast cancer
Breast cancer and your diet

Latest research confirms processed meat increases breast cancer risk

I generally have mixed feelings writing about lifestyle choices correlated with increased risks of cancer. I don’t think provoking people’s fear is usually beneficial and I don’t see my role as pushing people towards or away from things that I feel are important. Even as a vegetarian and now a non-strict vegan I have never found that scare tactics draw people into thinking about their own wellbeing or that of others. I do retain however a genuine sense of gratitude to the people that educated me about the relationship between diet, gut bacteria and mental and physical health. So if I highlight the latest research reviewing the dangers of eating processed meats it does reflect my own thoughts but I hope that it offers readers the opportunity to make an informed choice about what they eat.

An understanding of the health risks of eating animal products has been around for decades, and the scientific evidence of potential dangers linked to meat consumption increase week to week. The latest study to hit the media, reports that women who eat processed meat products such as bacon and sausages, have a 9% increased risk of breast cancer compared to women eating low levels of those products. This is not the first (nor the last I’ll bet) study that links meat with increased risks of developing cancer. But once you look into this issue further you realize that eating processed meat is a triple whammy! Firstly you have the statistically evidenced increased risk of breast cancer, secondly there are also greater risks of a wide range of other health problems. But also that while you’re eating potentially harmful animal products you are not consuming health supporting fresh fruit and vegetables.

As a society we know that the mass, unthinking consumption of animals and animal products isn’t helping us individually or benefiting the wider society. I’m an advocate of a healthy diet based primarily on plants, including fermented products. The indications are that even if you eat fresh fruit and vegetables alongside your processed meats, the benefits to your gut health are going to be limited. A final point to consider is that if we know that the type and quality of the food we eat affects our own health, what is the impact on us of the diet of the animals we consume? If animals are being reared in harsh unsanitary conditions, dependent on antibiotics for their survival and with poor quality fodder, should we be surprised if eating them increases our risks of poor health?