Toxic food 6 - Obesity
It's no secret that there's an epidemic of weight problems across the world, and it's not just limited to the developed counties. In the UK 24% of the population is obese, and around 70% are defined as overweight. Obesity in children is particularly worrying, as weight gain at a young age sets a pattern for life. Official reports and guidance pin the blame firmly on us, the consumer - we're either eating too much, or we're eating the wrong things, or we're not exercising enough. The fact that the initiatives to change this haven't worked doesn't seem to have prompted much enquiry into what's really going on.
When you've lived with weight problems as long as I have you learn to ignore the official advice. I tried switching from butter to margarine, and full-cream milk to semi skimmed, and I've never been so hungry in my life. What people who don't suffer from weight problems don't get is just how powerful the need to eat becomes when the body is short of a vital nutrient, and glucose in the blood stream is one of the most basic. When the blood sugar level drops, the brain acts as if it's dying, pumps adrenaline into the blood stream as fast as it can, and creates cravings to eat that no amount of willpower can overcome.
Something else other than idleness must be happening. I've long suspected that it was a nutritional deficiency causing the problem, but this didn't make sense. Surely in the developed world we get eveything we need in our diet?
It was only when I discovered the research into glyphosate that the pieces finally fell into place, but I want to be clear that it's not just that one chemical. If glyphosate gets banned there are many alternatives waiting to take it's place, some even more toxic, if that's possible. For instance a paper emerged in 2002 by Paula Baillie-Hamilton entitled "Chemical Toxins: A Hypothesis to Explain the Global Obesity Epidemic". This article pre-dates the discoveries about glyphosate, and the author lists a whole raft of toxins in the environment that could be to blame: pesticides, organophosphates, PCBs, plastics, heavy metals, solvents. I'm sure she's right, it's just the way glyphosate is being used and the sheer quantity of it in our food supply that is making me single out this particular toxin.
In this series of articles I'm trying to explain some of the biological mechanisms at work, because the better informed we are the better the decisions we can make. I realise that some of these explanations are going to get very technical, so if you prefer not to go there the take away message is to do as much as you can to eliminate toxins from your diet by eating strictly organic food. You need to recognise that these toxins are so widely distributed in the environment that even organic food cannot be guaranteed to be pure, but suppliers registered with the Soil Association work to a high standard. You may also be very deficient in certain minerals, so taking supplements may be necessary.
Deficiency is a good place to start with the explanation, because one of the features of glyphosate is that it can grab hold of certain minerals and lock them away in a type of chemical cage (technically this is called chelation, from the Greek "chela", meaning "crab's claw"). Even if you take in these minerals in your food, they may not be biologically available because of this chelating effect. Glyphosate particularly targets metals that are very important nutritionally for us, which include calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iron, copper, cobalt, potassium. To take my own experience as an example, I've always struggled if I don't get a lot of butter, cream and full-cream milk in my diet. Despite reading all the advice in the healthy eating books about reducing dairy products, I could never do it. What's become obvious since understanding this feature of glutamate is that all the calcium in my body was being leached away through this chelation process, and the craving for dairy foods was my body's way of topping up on calcium.
Although I've not seen much research done on this, it seems obvious to me that losing my calcium in this way must have contributed to my developing arthritis, and it could also be playing in a role in osteoporosis. Apart from its function in bones, calcium plays a vital role in many other functions, such as growth, operation of muscles, learning and memory, so a deficiency could affect all of these.
To take another example of a mineral deficiency, manganese is a an element which is used by our mitochondria to provide our bodies with energy. I explain mitochondria in more depth in another article, but if they malfunction due to manganese deficiency this can have severe consequences for our energy levels, and may explain why so many people are exhausted, or suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
Another way glyphosate creates deficiency is by killing off the probiotic bacteria that live in our colons and manufacture certain vitamins, amino acids and other nutrients that we are unable to make for ourselves. There's a lot of advertising selling us probiotic drinks and live yoghurt cultures, but while we're still taking in herbicide through our food these won't do us much good. One of the nutrients we lose out on when our gut bacteria are out of balance is tryptophan, which is a precursor molecule for several important hormones such as serotonin and melatonin. Since serotonin is known to be involved in blood sugar regulation, it's no wonder that the system that regulates our weight is out of control.
Glyphosate also interferes with the liver's detoxification systems, meaning that the body can't eliminate harmful substances so easily. To deal with this problem, our bodies store the unwanted toxins in adipose tissue, the cells that make us fat. Although this deals with the immediate problem of toxin poisoning, it means that we have to keep adding weight, and if we try to force ourselves to lose weight we experience unpleasant, if not downright dangerous, symptoms as the toxins are released back into the blood stream. For this reason it's important to eleiminate the cause of the problem before trying to lose weight. In fact eliminating toxins from our food is likely to bring about weight loss naturally, if slowly, as our systems gradually recover.
If all this isn't enough, there is another mechanism that interferes with the release of energy from fat cells, making it almost impossible to lose weight. About 70% of the glyphosate we absorb from food is excreted in urine or broken down, but there is a proportion that remains in our bodies. As we create new proteins it is incorporated into our body tissues, essentially becoming part of our cells. In this form it can no longer be flushed out, we have to wait for the proteins and cells that contain it to be broken down. This means that the longer we are exposed, the worse things get. By this process, glyphosate can interfere with the basic life processes that sustain us, and in so doing it can cause virtually any disease. In the case of obesity, it is thought that glyphosate may be interfering with an enzyme called hormone sensitive lipase, which is part of the pathway that turns fat back into energy. This makes perfect sense to me, as I've never until now understood why I should be so desperately hungry and short of energy, to the point of being too weak to stand up, when my body was carrying so much energy in the form of fat.
I get the impression that we're just seeing the start of the discoveries on this issue. There will be many more to come I'm sure. If you've struggled with weight problems you can take heart from the fact that it's not your fault - you're not weak-willed, greedy, lazy or any of the other criticisms that may have been levelled at you. If you've tried every diet under the sun and they haven't worked you now know why.
As to what to do next, going organic is a must, but unfortunately it's not that simple. Your body may have sustained all kinds of damage that needs to be repaired - mine was osteoarthritis, but almost any body system could be affected. There is a desperate need for medically trained people who fully understand the effects of glyphosate and other toxins, who can sympathetically help people who are in recovery. I don't like to criticise doctors, but I've been to see several GPs about my problems, and so far none of them have helped. In fact in some cases their advice has made me worse. I've had to work out my own cure for myself.
There is a risk of harming your body further by making changes too rapidly, so in my example of my dairy craving, this has been serving a purpose. To follow well-intended advice and give up dairy suddenly could be a mistake. We have to become our own physicians, learn to hear what our bodies are trying to tell us and find out for ourselves the best way to enable them to heal. I wish you every success in this process.