Herbicides and Hay
There has been a troublesome trend over the last few years: more and more horse owners are reporting that their horses suddenly get the “squirts”, have chronic diarrhea, chronic loose stools, and increased gas. Some of these bowel abnormalities can be traced to high-sugar grasses, parasite overload, infection, hindgut ulcers, or inflammatory bowel disease, and improve with appropriate treatment and/or management changes. But some horses don’t improve, despite a variety of medicines, diet changes, etc. In many of these cases, contaminated hay is the likely cause.
Herbicides and contaminated hay
Of course, the one food all these horses have in common is hay, grown in various places around the US and Canada. Thanks to the marketing efforts of companies like Monsanto, hay farmers are encouraged to use glyphosate as a desiccant, helping the crop dry out before harvesting. There are other herbicides that are used for crop and hay production: aminopyralid, clopyralid and picloram.
The University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences warns of using animal manure as a soil amendment because manure contamination can occur if the animals were fed forage treated with herbicides: “Even if the grass is cut, dried, and baled as hay, the herbicide remains. When the forage is fed to livestock, the herbicide is released within the digestive tract of the animal and excreted in manure” (publication #SS-AGR-415). This publication recommends doing a bioassay on any manure used for gardening or spread on fields.
The rabbit hole
A 2015 review published in Environmental Sciences Europe on glyphosate residues in Roundup Ready crops notes:
“The results indicate a rise in glyphosate residue levels in recent decades. In 1999, a major producer of both glyphosate and GM crops declared that glyphosate residue levels of 5.6mg/kg in glyphosate-tolerant soybean were considered to be extreme high values. But as of 2013, those levels would now be considered moderate to low. Global production figures support the notion that very large quantities of glyphosate are being sold and dispersed.”
Our horses are getting a higher exposure through contaminated hay.
In 2013, two researchers published a study (“Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II”) pointing out that “glyphosate has been shown to disrupt gut bacteria in animals, preferentially killing beneficial forms and causing an overgrowth of pathogens. Two other properties of glyphosate negatively impact health —chelation of minerals such as iron and cobalt, and interference with cytochrome P450 enzymes, which play many important roles in the body.”
The tight junctions
The tight junctions are the firewall of the intestinal lining; think of them as gate-keepers, allowing large macro-proteins across the membrane and keeping out the bad guys. The tight junctions control the trafficking with a little peptide called zonulin, which acts directly on the tight junctions to loosen them, allowing whatever needs to get through to get through including macro-nutrients and fiber. These tight junctions tie together the epithelial layer of the intestinal lining from nasal sinuses to the rectum. They tie together the blood/brain barrier.
In humans, gluten has been found to trigger zonulin production, thereby weakening the tight junctions. The GI tract becomes a kind of leaky sieve, which creates a toxic buildup: absorbing heavy metals, plastic residue, petroleum-based toxins, and chemical residues. We know horses get leaky gut, but what we don’t know is if gluten is causing it.
Glyphosate and the tight junctions
Glyphosate causes the up-regulation of zonulin, and in laboratory tests, was ten times more potent in opening tight junctions and causing leaky gut than gluten.
But another feature of glyphosate is that it was patented as an anti-microbial. What we know from research at MIT is that the good bacteria in the gut get killed off by glyphosate, so now we have an increase in zonulin opening the tight junctions, and a reduced microbiome of beneficial bacteria.
Looking to Europe for answers
Recently a colleague directed me to a German study, possibly related to the issue of contaminated hay, conducted by researchers at the Leipzig University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s Institute of Bacteriology and Mycology. The article, “Distribution of Glyphosate in Chicken Organs and its Reduction by Humic Acid Supplementation”, really piqued my interest.
The study was based on the fact that glyphosate residues could be detected in animal feed and animal organs including liver, spleen, lung, intestine, heart, muscles, and kidney. The study focused on what could reduce the residue and therefore “protect consumers from glyphosate residues in chicken meat.”
What the study (published by the Journal of Poultry Science in January, 2014) showed was that supplementation with humic acid led to a significant decrease in glyphosate residue: 53% less in serum, 28% less in liver, 44% less in spleen, 50% less in lung, 56% less in the gastrointestinal tract, 16% less in the heart, 63% less in the muscles. It did not have an effect on the kidney.
Two years after this study was published, the Munich Environmental Institute released the results of their testing which found that 14 popular German beers contained traces of glyphosate.
Chickens are not the only animals humic acid has been researched on: beef cattle, dairy cows, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, earthworms, and emus have been used in case studies that show humic acid does not cause allergic reactions, or embryo-toxic properties. Scientists at the Drepropetrovish Agricultural Institute in Moscow reported that humic acid is beneficial for the cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and gastrointestinal system.
What is humic acid?
Humic acid and fulvic acid are organic substances produced by the decomposition and biodegradation of plant matter. Fulvic acid has a smaller molecular size than humic acid, and is able to penetrate the mitochondria of the cell. Humic acid has higher carbon content than fulvic acid, and can increase the levels of beneficial microbes.
Before our soils became sick, over-used, and over-fertilized, humic acid was a part of the soil complex.
Commonly sourced from bogs, peat is one of the sources of humic acid. The amount of humic acid varies widely depending on the age and variety of plant decomposition in the bog. Lignite, known as brown coal, is formed from naturally compressed peat, and is a source of humic and fulvic acid.
A more consistent source of humic acid is from the Himalayas and is called shilajit. This bio-resin was formed during the time these mountains were born some 47 million years ago when the collision of major tectonic plates caused India and Eurasia to smash into each other. Pure shilajit consists of 65% humic and fulvic acid.
Humic acid and the tight junctions
Research published in January, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics (ISSN 2472-1921) showed that lignite extract blocked glyphosate-mediated injury in small intestinal and colon epithelial membranes, even at glyphosate levels 50 times higher than allowable in foods like corn and soy.
The study further pointed out that lignite strengthened the intestinal barrier function, thereby helping to reduce tight junction dysregulation.
Humic acid for horses and dogs
With my own horses and dogs, I am taking a proactive approach to glyphosate and its ability to result in contaminated hay. I know it is in my hay. My dogs are on raw, but most of the raw protein is grass-fed, and not necessarily organic. So I can’t be sure they aren’t getting some glyphosate exposure.
For the horses, I use BioStar’s Impulsion EQ or Quantum EQ with purified shilajit extract, which provides humic acid.
For the dogs, I use BioStar’s Juvenate K9, providing a blend of shilajit extract with Indian gooseberry extract bound to chromium, a micro-mineral important in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Are our animals getting sick because of glyphosate or other herbicides present in contaminated hay and other environmental sources? We just don’t know with any exactness. The World Health Organization has declared glyphosate a probable carcinogen, while several studies have already shown that glyphosate suppresses the hemoproteins: cytochrome P450 enzymes and amino acid biosynthesis by the gut microbiome. Other studies have shown glyphosate’s effect on specific beneficial bacteria; Lactobacillus, Bacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus populations are reduced in the GI tract, while the more harmful bacterial strains like E. coli and Salmonella are resistant to glyphosate, meaning their numbers can increase under glyphosate exposure while the beneficial bacteria perish.
Humic acid provides an important defense against glyphosate’s effects on the body, specifically the gut and tight junctions. I like to think of humic acid as the Jedi helping to protect the body from the Imperial Storm Troopers known as glyphosate. In a world where we’re facing problems with contaminated hay and the creeping of other toxins into the environment we share with our animals, any Force for good is one we can use.