(NaturalNews) Even after being banned more than 40 years ago, the pesticide DDT continues to affect the lives of people today, beckoning infertility and other deeply concerning health conditions. Researchers are now finding out how the pesticide affects the nervous system. In 1972, when the US banned DDT from commercial production, environmental tests confirmed that this pesticide was harmful to the environment, especially bird habitats.
Now, decades later, this toxic pesticide is being linked to increased risk of Alzheimer's in elderly adults. Researchers at Rutgers University report that DDT increases risk and severity of Alzheimer's disease in patients primarily over the age of 60. The findings, published in the journal JAMA Neurology, showed how DDE, the breakdown compound of DDT, is measured four times higher in the blood of late onset Alzheimer's patients. The study took into consideration only chlorinated compounds and did not assess newer pesticides widely accepted in agriculture today.
DDT lurking in most blood samples today
Introduced as a pesticide during WWII, DDT was applied en masse as agricultural insect control and was even used to fight off insect-borne diseases like malaria. (Africa still uses this pesticide in homes to control insects.) The pesticide is so pervasive that it regularly appears in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected today, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
This may be due to imported fruit that comes from countries that still apply DDT. This may also be because DDT takes many decades to break down in the environment. Traces of WWII-era DDT could be breaking down in people's blood today in the 21st century.
DDT levels measured four times greater in Alzheimer's patients
For the Rutger's study, the Emory University Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School's Alzheimer's Disease Center collaborated, focusing on 86 Alzheimer's patients and 79 control group participants who showed no symptoms of Alzheimer's. When the researchers measured the blood of all participants, they found that 74 out of 86 Alzheimer's patients had DDE blood levels four times greater than control participants!
Their study connected genetics and environmental factors. Alzheimer's patients showing expression of the gene ApoE typically possess greater risk for Alzheimer's; in concordance, the highest measured levels of DDE were correlated with the most severe cognitive impairments in those with ApoE gene expression.
"We need to conduct further research to determine whether this occurs and how the chemical compound interacts with the ApoE4 gene," says Jason R. Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
DDT pesticide increases nerve cell plaque associated with Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's is characterized by plaque formation between nerve cells, which leads to massive nerve cell die-offs. Increased amyloid protein permits the plaque to form.
In further brain cell studies, the researchers made an association between pesticide DDT and increased amyloid protein accumulation. DDT basically fueled nerve cell plaques in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory and thinking.
"Much of the research into Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases has mostly been centered on finding genetic connections," Richardson says. "I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility."
"This study demonstrates that there are additional contributors to Alzheimer's disease that must be examined and that may help identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer's. It is important because when it comes to diagnosing and treating this and other neurodegenerative diseases, the earlier someone is diagnosed, the more options there may be available."