Is glyphosate, the active ingredient found in the ubiquitous weed-killer Roundup, responsible for the symptoms of celiac disease, which causes damage to the small intestine if gluten is consumed? No, that's not true: Although a 2013 paper hypothesized that glyphosate was "the most important causal factor" in the celiac disease "epidemic," experts told Lead Stories that that assertion is not supported by scientific evidence available at the time of writing.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on January 13, 2022. The post included a meme about bread and gluten allergies and the caption read:
It's not the gluten, it's the Roundup! Study shows celiac symptoms are identical to glyphosate poisoning symptoms:
The link included in the caption led to this article titled "We're Not Gluten Intolerant, We're Glyphosate Intolerant" which was published by Return to Now on September 4, 2021.
This is what the post looked like on Facebook on January 18, 2022:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Jan 18 20:06 2022 UTC)
The claim is based on a 2013 paper titled "Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance" that discussed glyphosate and a supposed link to celiac disease. The paper was written by Anthony Samsel, an independent public health and environment researcher; and Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The paper was one out of five papers by Samsel and Seneff that was scrutinized in an article published in 2017 and written by researchers who specialize in medical and molecular genetics. The authors of the 2017 article found that the theories about glyphosate published by Samsel and Seneff were "not supported by the available scientific evidence."
However, glyphosate poisoning and celiac disease both include symptoms like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, so Lead Stories reached out to celiac disease experts to learn more about the argument presented in the 2013 paper. In an email to Lead Stories on January 18, 2022, Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that in his opinion, he is not sure that the claim of glyphosate being responsible for the celiac disease "epidemic" is supported by scientific evidence. He went on:
The paper you cited and published in 2013 is simply a descriptive report of circumstantial evidence suggesting that glyphosate is the main driving element of this surge. There is no scientific proof based on a specific experimental design to support this statement. Bottom line, while the role of glyphosate in causing break of tolerance to gluten and onset of celiac disease in genetically predisposed individuals cannot be completely excluded, I am a bit skeptical that glyphosate is THE MAIN driving force for the celiac epidemic.
Katarina Mollo, a registered dietitian and the director of education for the National Celiac Association, made a similar statement to Lead Stories in an email from January 14, 2022:
The glyphosate link is just an hypothesis at this time, not something that has been proven. It should not be presented as a fact, but as an hypothesis.
Lead Stories previously debunked a claim that Monsanto, the company that produced Roundup and has now been acquired by Bayer, was banned in 15 locations. That fact check can be found here.