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.