Autism is one of humanity’s most mysterious afflictions. The disorder, which can hinder communication, empathy and other social skills on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe, affects as many as 1 in 68 children born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, up from 1 in 150 at the turn of the century. No one knows exactly what has caused the increase, but one researcher is pointing her finger at a chemical called glyphosate, more widely known as the active ingredient in the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup.
Agribusiness giant Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans to the United States in 1994, which are genetically modified to resist glyphosate so farmers can spray their fields with the weed killer without damaging their crops. Today, some 90 percent of soy and corn grown in the country are Roundup Ready.
Now Dr. Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is sounding the alarm bell. Seneff claims that as many as half of all children born in the United States by 2025 will be on the autism spectrum, and Roundup is the reason why.
“The way glyphosate works is that it interrupts the shikimate pathway, a metabolic function in plants that allows them to create essential amino acids,” Seneff explained at a recent Autism conference. “When this path is interrupted, the plants die. Human cells don’t have a shikimate pathway so scientists and researchers believed that exposure to glyphosate would be harmless.”
However, she claims that the chemical still effects humans even if it doesn’t act on our bodies directly.
“The problem is that bacteria DO have a shikimate pathway and we have millions of good bacteria in our guts — our ‘gut flora,’” Seneff continued. “These bacteria are essential to our health. Our gut isn’t just responsible for digestion, but also for our immune system. When glyphosate gets in our systems, it wrecks our gut and as a result our immune system.”
Seneff also says that her research has shown that glyphosate can inhibit liver function, which could be an explanation for high rates of vitamin D deficiency. She further claims that the chemical could be implicated in diminished kidney function, celiac disease and other gastrointestinal problems.
“[The autism rate] has come up from 1 in 10,000 in 1970 — so that is already an incredibly alarming change,” Seneff said to Next News Network. “I got worried eight years ago when I was seeing it rising, and people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s just more reporting, more diagnosis’ — that’s a way to hide the evidence.”
That’s not the only alarming data that has come to light recently about Roundup. Earlier this spring, the World Health Organization came to a consensus that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans after an extensive review of the evidence and scientific record. Other studies suggest that pesticide exposure in pregnant women can put children at risk of birth defects leading to learning and behavioral impairments.
While some industry-touted studies claim that Roundup is safe for humans, Seneff says that there simply hasn’t been enough research. “The glyphosate is being soaked up by the plants and getting into the food system,” she said, “and the U.S. government is doing very little monitoring to even see if that’s true.”