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Link Between Parkinson’s and Pesticides

Scientists sound the alarm in new book

By Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH

Most of us are aware that Alzheimer’s disease is on the rise due to high blood sugars and excessive inflammation. These factors are also related to the rise in overweight, obesity and type 2 diabetes.  

Less well known is that the frequency of Parkinson’s disease is also on the rise and may be the fasting growing neurologic disorder in the world, according to a team of expert doctors and neuroscientists.  In their recent book, Ending Parkinson’s Disease: A Prescription for Action (Dorsey, Sherer, Okun, Bloem; Hachette Book Group, 2020), these specialists point to the most common causes of this neurodegenerative condition and what we can do to avoid it.

Alzheimer’s and other dementias are due to generalized atrophy and inflammation in the brain. Parkinson’s disease reflects the neurodegeneration of specific parts of the brain that use dopamine as the neurotransmitter: the basal ganglia and substantia nigra. Signs of Parkinson’s include resting tremors, slow movements (especially in walking), and eventually dementia. Genes and environmental triggers have been suspected, but until now, the main causes have been unknown.

The evidence for agricultural pesticides and herbicides causing the increase in Parkinson’s disease is now clear, and these academic neurologists and neuroscientists are calling the alarm. It appears this devastating disease is avoidable.

Agriculture in America is big business, and any health measure that threatens profits is very difficult to enact. This challenge is not new. It took many years to stop the use of DDT in agriculture (still used in developing nations) and asbestos in buildings. Most at risk are the farmers and farmworkers regularly exposed to the chemicals cited below, but because there is an approximate 20-year lag between peak exposure and the disease, the cause is not always recognized.

The three major chemicals linked to Parkinson’s are paraquat (the most commonly implicated), chlorpyrifos, and trichloroethylene (TCE).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes paraquat as “highly toxic.” It is banned in 32 countries but still used on crops in much of the U.S.  Paraquat is banned in 32 countries and listed as a “restricted use” product in California,1 however, the authors report that in the past decade, its use throughout our country has doubled. 

The nerve toxin chlorpyrifos is the most widely used insecticide in the U.S. The California Farm Bureau Federation reports that in 2013, chlorpyrifos was used to treat almost 60 different crops, including alfalfa, almonds, cotton, grapes, oranges and walnuts, covering about 1.3 million acres.  Fortunately, in 2020, California banned the sale of chlorpyrifos, and as of December 31, 2020, agricultural growers are not allowed to possess or use it. However, this doesn’t apply to all states.2

TCE is used as a solvent to remove grease from metal. It can become toxic by breathing its fumes, ingesting it or absorbing it through the skin.  It is found to cause Parkinson’s disease in laboratory animals. This product has been banned by the EPA for most consumer use, but not entirely for commercial use.3

This book is an important call to action. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has played a leading role in sounding the alarm and supporting action in Congress. We must protect the workers who put food on our table, as well as ourselves and our families, from another manmade factor causing devastating neurodegenerative disease.  

Eating organic produce and carefully cleaning off agricultural residues are especially important today. Pay special attention to the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” as recognized by the Environmental Working Group and found on their website at www.ewg.org/foodnews

Joseph Scherger, MD, MPH is founder of Restore Health in Indian Wells, a clinic dedicated to reversing disease. For more information, visit www.restorehealth.me or call (760) 898.9663.

References:
1) https://www.farmprogress.com/government/epa-proposes-further-restrictions-paraquat;
2) https://www.npr.org/2019/10/09/768795666/california-bans-popular-pesticide-linked-to-brain-damage-in-children;
3) https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/risk-management-carbon-tetrachloride#finalriskevaluation

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