Researchers from the UC Berkeley School of Public Health found a correlation between childhood exposure to glyphosate, the most commonly used herbicide, and liver inflammation and metabolic disorder in early adulthood, which could lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver cancer later on in life.
The research study was led by Brenda Eskenazi, director of UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Center for Environmental Research and Community Health, or CERCH, and principal investigator of the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas.
They used samples from CERCH to examine herbicide concentrations in urine samples collected during pregnancy and at ages 5, 14 and 18 years on a small subset of the study population, according to CERCH associate researcher and co-author Ana Maria Mora.
It was found, Mora said, that higher levels of glyphosate residue and aminomethylphosphonic acid in urine samples at ages 5 and 14 were associated with an increased risk of liver inflammation from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome, respectively, at age 18.
“Glyphosate is not only an exposure or chemical that people living in agricultural communities should be concerned about,” Mora said. “It’s used in lawns, it’s used in golf courses, sometimes they use it along highways, they use it in playgrounds.”
The research was inspired by Charles Limbach, a family physician at the Monterey County Health Department clinic in Salinas, who noticed an increasing number of children in his own practice in East Salinas having indications of nonalcoholic fatty liver, according to him.
While the large amount of carbohydrates the children were consuming due to economic factors was a contributing factor to liver inflammation, Limbach said he observed a more noticeable increase in liver inflammation that raised alarms.
“I began checking these kids who were obese and finding this elevation of liver enzymes, which is an indication of inflammation in the liver,” Limbach said. “The workup always led to the same thing: fatty liver, over and over and over, to the point that I just no longer did the workup because I knew it was going to be fatty liver because that’s what it was every single time,” Limbach said.
Because the research is the first of its kind, the researchers will need to replicate it, Eskenazi said.
The authors are hoping to analyze the urine samples of the entire cohort with additional funding as well as continue to follow up on the children of the study to examine their liver function and metabolic disorder into full-blown adulthood, according to Eskenazi.
“Cardiometabolic outcomes and liver disorders are on the rise in the States, particularly among Hispanic populations, so there’s the need to study the exposure, there’s a need to study glyphosate in our case and there’s also a need to study the cause of this rise in cardiometabolic and liver disorders as well in Hispanic and other ethnic groups,” Mora said.
Eskenazi added the researchers recommend restricting the use of glyphosate to only essential use, meaning it should not be sold over the counter for private use.