Roundup Weedkiller Linked To Global Epidemic of Fatal Kidney Disease

Roundup Weedkiller Linked To Global Epidemic of Fatal Kidney Disease

Photo credit: Ed Kashi for La Isla Foundation/VII

The mystery of what is causing thousands to die each year from a fatal kidney disease may now be solved, with evidence pointing to the world's most heavily used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) as the primary culprit.

A new study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health proposes a link between the herbicide known as Roundup (aka glyphosate) and a series of mysterious epidemics of fatal chronic kidney disease of unknown origin (CKDu) affecting several poor farming regions around the world. 

The extent of the health problem is so massive that the Center for Public Integrity found that CKDu has killed more people in El Salvador and Nicaragua than diabetes, AIDS and leukemia combined, over the past 5 years on record.

Titled, "Glyphosate, Hard Water and Nephrotoxic Metals: Are They the Culprits Behind the Epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology in Sri Lanka?," researchers hypothesized that while glyphosate is toxic, it alone is not capable of destroying kidney tissue on the scale recently observed in rice paddy regions of Northern Sri Lanka, or in El Salvador where it is the second leading cause of death among men. They propose glyphosate becomes extremely toxic to the kidney when it mixes with 'hard' water or heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium, either naturally present in the soil or added externally through fertilizer inputs. Hard water contains 'metals,' such as calcium, magnesium, strontium and iron, along with carbonate, bicarbonate, sulphate and chlorides.

The new hypothesis explains a number of observations connected with the disease, including why in afflicted regions like Sri Lanka there has been a strong association between the consumption of hard water and the occurrence of this special kidney disease, with 96% of CKDu patients having consumed hard or very hard water for at least five years.

The image below shows how closely water hardness and the prevalence of CKDu overlap:

The discovery of a 'new disease'

According to the study, a "Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown etiology (CKDu)" was discovered among the rice paddy farms in Northern Central Province of Sri Lanka in the mid-1990s.  The condition spread quickly to other farming areas, and now afflicts 15% of working age people in the northern part of the country, or a total population of 400,000 patients with an estimated death toll of around 20,000. Watch the videos "Mystery in the Fields" and "Cycle of Death" for 5 minute documentaries providing additional background information on afflicted areas around the world.

CKDu does not carry the same known risk factors as chronic kidney disease, which include diabetes, high blood pressure and glomerular nephritis, an inflammatory kidney condition. The Sri Lankan Ministry of Health introduced criteria for CKDu in 2009, including:

  1. No past history of, or current treatment for diabetes mellitus or chronic and/or severe hypertension, snake bites, urological disease of known etiology or glomerulonephritis.
  2. Normal glycosylated hemoglobin levels (HbA1C ˂ 6.5%).
  3. Blood pressure ˂160/100 mmHg untreated or ˂140/90 mmHg on up to two 
antihypertensive agents.

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