The Relationship Between Pesticides and Parkinson’s

The Relationship Between Pesticides and Parkinson’s

A discussion of how environmental factors, such as pesticides, may affect your risk of Parkinson’s disease. During my recent interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, many of the callers asked questions related to the environmental risks of Parkinson’s disease (PD), specifically, exposures related to farming. Those calls prompted me to delve further into this complicated and murky topic. Before we start discussing specific factors in the environment that may increase the risk of PD, let’s understand some basic ground rules that will help put this topic in perspective person’s genetic makeup is likely more important in determining whether he or she develops PD than any environmental risk factor. This is probably the case even in a person without a known family history of PD. However, environmental exposure may be important in triggering the disease in a person genetically susceptible to it.
It is important to note that any particular environmental exposure that we will talk about, typically increases the risk of PD by a very small amount. The risk will also depend on dosage and frequency of exposure, which means that a small and/or infrequent exposure may have a very small impact on PD risk.

Certain chemical exposures, like coffee or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, seem to lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). All of the variables that can raise or lower a person’s risk for Parkinson’s disease must be considered to fully determine their risk. There are probably other chemicals in our environment that affect the risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD) as well. These chemicals are not yet well studied, so I won’t discuss them here. Being in a modern society exposes us to a wide range of chemicals, the risks of which we are not fully aware. Given this context, let’s get started. Research from the 1980s indicated that early exposure to a rural environment and well water was linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease (PD) in later life. These questions were then the subject of numerous more investigations. Although the results of the studies are inconsistent, overall the evidence points to links between each of the following factors and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease: drinking well water, living in a rural area, working as a farmer, exposure to farm animals, and living on a farm.

Naturally, there is a connection between all of these categories because farmers use pesticides, drink well water, and are more likely than urban residents to live on farms in rural areas where they are also exposed to farm animals. The goal of the studies was to determine why living in a rural area raised the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Is there a higher risk for people who live on farms, or is it just a part of living there? Is it because of pesticide exposure, well water exposure, animal exposure, or something else related to living in a rural area?

Ultimately, the claim that each of these factors raises the risk of Parkinson’s disease is supported by epidemiologic data. It should be noted that all of the elevated risks in these studies are negligible, typically 1-2 times higher than the risk in the general population. A recent study attempted to revisit this issue because farming life has changed since the majority of studies regarding Parkinson’s disease and rural living were conducted decades ago. There is less reliance on well water in rural communities, there has been a significant migration from rural to urban areas, and there is a decrease in the use of pesticides. The incidence of Parkinson’s disease (PD) in rural versus urban areas was examined in a recent study that was done in Finland. Curiously, being a rural resident is still associated with PD risk. Probably, the environmental exposures from decades ago are still reflected in the diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease (PD), and future research may reveal additional benefits from risk reduction in rural areas brought about by a decline in pesticide use and other farming-related changes. However, the study raises the possibility that our knowledge of the relationship between Parkinson’s risk and rural living is still incomplete.

Since data on this topic is often collected in large populations, it raises the question of which specific pesticides are most concerning given the evidence linking pesticide use to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Frequently, study participants are unaware of the precise pesticide exposures they have had. This makes figuring out which pesticides to stay away from challenging. However, some research was able to look into the dangers of particular substances. The most recent review summed up what is currently known about this subject. Paraquat has the most data connecting it to an elevated risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD); exposure to it is linked to a 2-3-fold increased risk of PD over the general population. A very thorough study looked at the relationship between the risk of Parkinson’s disease and exposure to thirty-one pesticides. The two pesticides that should worry people the most, according to the data, are rotenone and paraquat. Reactive oxygen species are intracellular chemicals that produce oxidative stress and cause cell damage. This is how paraquat works. The way rotenone works is by causing damage to the mitochondria, which are responsible for producing energy necessary for cell survival. It’s interesting to note that oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction are prevalent themes in our understanding of what ultimately leads to nerve cell death in Parkinson’s disease.

Several pesticides have been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, including:

  1. Paraquat: This herbicide has been strongly linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Exposure to paraquat has been shown to induce oxidative stress and damage dopaminergic neurons, which are the cells primarily affected in Parkinson’s disease.
  2. Rotenone: Another pesticide, rotenone, has also been implicated in the development of Parkinson’s disease. Rotenone works by inhibiting mitochondrial function and increasing oxidative stress, leading to neuronal damage similar to that seen in Parkinson’s disease.
  3. Organochlorine pesticides: Some studies have suggested a potential link between exposure to organochlorine pesticides, such as dieldrin and lindane, and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. These pesticides have been shown to accumulate in the brain and may contribute to neurodegeneration.
  4. Organophosphate pesticides: Exposure to certain organophosphate pesticides, such as chlorpyrifos and diazinon, has also been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Organophosphates can interfere with neurotransmitter function and may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s disease through various mechanisms.

It’s important to note that while these pesticides have been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, not everyone exposed to them will develop the condition. Parkinson’s disease is likely influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and pesticide exposure may represent one piece of the puzzle. Additionally, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s disease.


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