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STUDY: Exposure to certain pesticides makes you 6 times more likely to develop ALS

Pesticide exposure

(NaturalNews) Exposure to pesticides and household flame retardants may dramatically increase a person's risk of developing the fatal neurological disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan and published in the journal JAMA Neurology.

"We are identifying these toxic, persistent, environmental pollutants in higher amounts in ALS patients compared to those who do not have ALS," co-author Dr. Stephen Goutman said.

The study was partially funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ALS is also commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, after a famous baseball player who died from the illness.

Flame retardants also triple risk

ALS is characterized by the degeneration and scarring (sclerosis) of the nerve cells that control muscle movement (amyotrophic means "no muscle nourishment") in the lateral area of the spinal cord. As these neurons die, the muscles they control begin to fail. This makes it impossible for the brain to control both conscious and unconscious muscle functions including movement, speech, eating and even breathing. The disease is progressive and degenerative, ending in death. There is no cure, although some drugs have shown promise in delaying its progression.

Researchers believe that like many conditions, the disease results from a combination of genetic and environmental triggers. Previous studies have shown that exposure to certain toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, may increase the risk of ALS. Veterans are known to be roughly twice as likely as non-veterans to develop ALS; the link is particularly strong among veterans of the Gulf War (who, notably, were exposed to large amounts of depleted uranium and also a panoply of toxic chemicals from oil fires).

Building on prior research suggesting a connection between ALS and pesticides, the researchers in the new study examined 156 ALS patients and 128 healthy controls between 2011 and 2014. Participants were asked about their home and work exposure to 122 different pesticides and environmental chemicals. Their blood was also tested to measure levels of the chemicals.

The researchers found that three chemicals were associated with increased ALS risk. Exposure to the pesticide cis-chlordane (banned in 1988) increased ALS risk by a shocking six times, while exposure to the fungicide ingredient pentachlorobenzene (banned by the international Stockholm Convention in 2011) doubled it.

One of the three chemicals is still in use: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used to make flame retardants for clothing, furniture and electronics. Exposure to PBDEs increased the risk of ALS 2.7 times.

Once again, the study also found that military veterans had a higher ALS risk.

Pesticides destroy the nervous system

Pesticide exposure has also been strongly linked to other neurodegenerative diseases, most notably Parkinson's disease. A long history of studies similar to the one recently conducted on ALS have found that people with a history of pesticide exposure are more likely to develop Parkinson's.

More recently, researchers have begun to establish mechanisms by which pesticides seem to directly cause the brain damage that leads to Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease is an incurable, progressive, degenerative disorder characterized by loss of motor control leading to tremor, rigidity and slowed movement and speech. Researchers believe that it is caused by destruction of the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Most cases seem to be caused by environmental factors, but these remain poorly understood.

One study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2013, showed that the pesticide benomyl destroyed dopamine-producing neurons both in the laboratory and in the brains of fish. Prior studies by some of the same researchers had also linked Parkinson's with the pesticides maneb, paraquat and ziram.

It's no surprise that so many pesticides have neurotoxic effects; after all, many of them are designed to attack the nervous systems of insects, causing their death.

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