Susan and Chris Goodwin, who live in Charlotte, North Carolina, started trying to conceive when they were both 26. Though Susan stopped taking birth control six months before they married, they tried for a year without success. The Goodwins’ obstetrician referred them to a specialist but even the reproductive endocrinologists, after running dozens of tests, couldn’t find anything wrong. It was perplexing: The Goodwins were young and healthy. Even so, they endured three years of infertility.
“The problem with glyphosate is that it’s everywhere,” says Mary Alionis, who has been an organic farmer for 30 years and is the owner of Whistling Duck Farm, a 22-acre organic farm in Grants Pass, Oregon. “Even if you don’t use it on your lawn or your garden, you’ve likely been exposed to it. You can’t get away from it. It’s on food, it’s on the roadways, it’s in the parks.”
James Neuenschwander, M.D., a family physician based in White Lake, Michigan, agrees. “I can choose not to use it, and I don’t,” Neuenschwander says, “but that doesn’t mean I can live free of glyphosate, I’m being exposed because my neighbor uses it or the farmer half a mile away is spraying his fields with it. It gets aerosolized and into the water. More importantly, even if I eat nothing but organic foods, it doesn’t guarantee that there’s no glyphosate in it from cross-contamination from commercial fields. I’ve been glyphosate-free for years, but I still have more glyphosate in my system than 60 percent of Americans. Something is definitely wrong with that.”
And as our worldwide use of glyphosate has increased, so have our problems with fertility. Indeed, infertility issues are on the rise in the United States and worldwide. Couples wanting to become parents are facing a host of difficulties.
“We see a fair number of people with fertility issues, especially men with sperm that are not fully functioning,” says Cammy Benton, M.D., an integrative family physician based in Huntersville, North Carolina. “They feel desperate. And they’re also broke. They’re financially strapped because of all the money they’ve spent on trying to get pregnant.”
What does all this have to do with glyphosate?
Theories abound about the reasons for the decreasing birth rates and increasing infertility issues. Some pundits have blamed videogame addiction. Why have sex when you can live in a virtual world? Others say it’s due to economic instability. It’s hard to justify having a family when you are living with your parents and working a low-paying job.
But Benton and other medical doctors and researchers argue that the underlying cause of infertility for both men and women is environmental.
“We know that endocrine disruptors affect hormone function and the health of the sperm, in animals as well as in people,” Benton says. “The fact that environmental toxins are affecting fertility is no secret.”
Which brings us back to the study on glyphosate in pregnant women. This study, led by Corina Lesseur, M.D./Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine, adds to a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to glyphosate and its adjuvants as the most pervasive environmental cause of the recent decline in human fertility.
Female children of women exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy have abnormal genitalia, as measured by the distance between the anus and the nearest point of the genitals. A longer “anogenital distance” is more characteristic of males.
In other studies as well, in both mammals and humans, scientists have found an association between maternal exposure to glyphosate and disrupted hormones in their offspring.
This genital defect is also a predictor of a condition in women called polycystic ovary syndrome. PCOS is one of the main root causes of female infertility, associated with irregular menstrual cycles and sometimes a total lack of menstrual periods, as well as with excess growth of facial and body hair.
After three years of trying, Susan Goodwin finally held a baby in her arms. A little boy with light brown hair and bright blue eyes. In the interim, she stopped eating all packaged and processed foods. This, she says, helped her have more energy and balance her hormones.
Serenity Quesnelle, diagnosed with PCOS when she was 16 years old, hasn’t been as lucky. Quesnelle, who’s 27 and lives in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, has been trying to conceive for nearly four years.
“I’ve seen multiple doctors and have just been left with the answer of ‘unexplained infertility,’” she says sadly, adding that she and her husband are doing everything they can to figure out the root cause. Quesnelle isn’t sure but she thinks the infertility stems from a poor diet growing up, along with taking dozens of rounds of antibiotics and other prescription medications. She believes glyphosate, too, is partly to blame.
“I’m frustrated,” she says. “So many things that we know aren’t safe are still allowed to be sold, and even pushed on us.”