Glyphosate links to rheumatoid arthritis

August 2016
Photo Creative Commons
Looking for adverse effects of exposure to glyphosate herbicide in the general population is well-nigh impossible. Glyphosate-based formulations (sold as 'Roundup') have been widely used for decades to control weeds in both rural and urban settings. Since the deployment of glyphosate-accumulating GM crops in the 1990s, the herbicide has been an increasing presence in our food chain, in water, and in the wind [1]. No one knows how much glyphosate they've been exposed to, nor when, nor how long, and there's no unexposed 'control' group for comparison.

And then, you have to figure out what disease(s) or symptom(s) you're looking for in relation to a chemical which has never been clinically tested and may be interacting with a host of other environmental pollutants.

However, an attempt to investigate links between adverse effects on the population and a range of agri-chemicals, including glyphosate, was published recently.

The health effect studied was rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues causing inflammation especially in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis impacts two percent of Americans over age 60 and is more prevalent in woman and farmers. Data were therefore drawn from a high-risk group, the spouses of farmers who could give some account of which agri-chemicals out of 15 in common use they had been exposed to.

Two pesticides were found to be associated with increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis: maneb/mancozeb formula fungicide, and glyphosate-based herbicide. Both have been declared a "probable human carcinogen" by, respectively, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer [2]. this is important because some autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, have been linked to certain types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The latter type of cancer has been specifically associated with glyphosate.

It was noted that childhood exposure to livestock may provide some protection against rheumatoid arthritis. This might be due to a better development of the immune system due to early experience of infectious agents and microbial toxins. Such influences may be masking the full harmful potential of glyphosate. They may also lead to inconsistent data on glyphosate effects which can be used to dismiss links to disease.

Intriguingly, the authors point out that there are rheumatoid arthritis risk factors associated with soil, such as silica dust and pesticide residues. Glyphosate's ability to bind to soil may release materials or combinations of materials which increase the potential for damage to health.

Due to the relatively small case sample size available, no investigation of the effects of multiple pesticides or combinations of specific pesticides was attempted.


A Gordian Knot of chemical, animal and soil interactions too complex to unravel but steadily strangling us?

The only cut that will solve this problem is the one which cuts out the knot in its entirety. As the International panel of experts on sustainable food systems (IPES-Food) concluded the solution is to ditch our dependence on agri-chemicals, intensification, global markets, and dominance of our food supply by a handful of corporations. We need carbon in the ground instead of in the air, biodiversity around us, fertile soil in the fields, sustainable yields from our crops, secure farm livelihoods, a diverse diet, and improved health [3].


  • Christine G. Parks, et al., 2016, Rheumatoid Arthritis in Agricultural Health Study - Spouses: Associations with Pesticides and Other Farm Exposures, Environmental Health Perspectives
  • Glyphosate link with rheumatoid arthritis shown in new study, GM Watch 12.06.16
  • EBDC Fact Sheet,

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