The poisonous soup that is our environment….
I met a woman over the weekend who told me that she had been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease (PD) after she learned that I studied the effects of pesticides on brain development. I felt sympathetic towards her because she is only 39 years old and is on several medications and recently went through surgery for deep brain stimulation (DBS) to try to minimize the effects of the disorder. She told me that before people are aware she has PD she had been called “mumbles” because she has a hard time enunciating her words. She also told me the meds that she is on for the disorder cause her to act differently than she used to. Despite all she has been through, she remains positive and upbeat about her situation which really impressed me.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder in which areas of the brain involved in dopamine release start to degenerate. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter needed for motor control. Over time, this loss causes movement problems, tremors, and difficulty walking and talking. While there are medications given to patients with this disorder, they can only treat it and slow down its progress. Deep brain stimulation is an effective treatment for PD, yet is highly invasive with a pacemaker inserted into the brain so the patient can use a remote to inactivate or stimulate areas of the brain depending on the symptoms of the patient.
Currently, the causes of Parkinson’s disease are unknown, albeit much attention is on the role of environmental toxicants. Roughly 5% of PD cases are solely from genetic mutations. Even though there is no specific cause of PD, individuals that are ‘genetically predisposed’ are at a higher risk for the disorder, especially in conjuction with environmental toxicant exposure. Earlier studies reported that certain pesticides disrupt locomotor activity and alter dopaminergic neurons and dopamine release from those neurons. Just this month, scientists from University of California San Diego published a study indicating that the herbicide Paraquat and the fungicide Maneb affect the growth of new neurons in the adult brain and the expression of genes involved in the formation of new neurons (using mice). Both Paraquat and Maneb have been found in a large number of non-organic foods. Maneb was banned since 2010, but was in use since the mid-1900s. Paraquat is one of the most used pesticides, since 1955, even though it is extremely toxic. Farm workers exposed to these pesticides have an extremely high risk of getting Parkinson’s disease.
I’ve written about pesticides before, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate to make you aware of what you are putting in your body. Even though you probably aren’t a farmer exposed to high levels of pesticides, studies show that eating organic foods drastically lowers the levels of pesticide metabolites in the body. We all know that eating organic is more expensive, but it might be worth giving up some other non essentials to invest in our health. With the abundance of research on the harmful effects of pesticides, we can’t ignore the facts that they are poisoning our bodies and our environment. At the very least, take a look at the ” The dirty dozen ” foods with the highest amount of pesticide residues and try to incorporate those into your diet. I think it’s time that being pro-organic shouldn’t be the minority anymore!
Desplats, PA. et al. Combined exposure to Maneb and Paraquat alters transcriptional regulation of neurogenesis-related genes in mice models of Parkinson’s disease. Mol Neurodegener. Sep 2012 28;7(1):49.
Arkury TA et al. “Pesticide Urinary Metabolite Levels of Children in Eastern North Carolina Farmworker Households.” Environ Health Perspect Aug 2007;115(8).