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Pesticide use linked to Parkinson's disease in farming and health study

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Pesticides and Parkinson's disease linked.

Researchers find two pesticides that more than double the chances of developing Parkinson's disease. The two agents, rotenone and paraquat, were found to boost the chances of the disease 2.5 times for individuals who reported using either.

Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Parkinson's Institute and Clinical Center in Sunnyvale, California collaborated to find the pesticide, Parkinson's disease, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Paraquat and rotenone both harm the cells of the body, but through different mechanisms. "Rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria, the structure responsible for making energy in the cell," said Freya Kamel, Ph.D who co-authored the study. "Paraquat increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures. People who used these pesticides or others with a similar mechanism of action were more likely to develop Parkinson's disease.

The findings are extracted from the Farming and Movement Evaluation - FAME - study, a case controlled trial that is part of the Agricultural Health Study specifically designed to find the risk of Parkinson's disease and neurotoxic pesticide exposure in a farming and health study.

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For the study, 110 people with Parkinson's disease were compared to 358 controls, assessing the links between life exposure to the pesticides the risk of developing the disease through detailed interviews.

Caroline Tanner, M.D., Ph.D., clinical research director of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center, and lead author of the article says the findings can help researchers better understand the biological underpinnings of what leads to Parkinson's disease and may lead to ways to prevent it.

Use of the pesticides is restricted currently. Paraquat (dipyridylium) was once widely used in the United States to destroy marijuana plants and is a weed killer that now requires a license for use because animal studies raised concerns about Parkinson's disease. Rotenone is used to kill invasive species of fish.

According to the NIH there is no "registered" use for rotenone for home and garden, but a simple internet search shows the pesticide can be purchased easily for use on garden pests and is touted as a "natural" and safe compound that comes from the roots of tropical plants. The findings show individuals exposed to the two pesticides, paraquat and rotenone, were more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson's disease, compared to non-users in the farming and health (FAME) study.

Environmental Health Perspectives: doi:10.1289/ehp.1002839
"Rotenone, Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease"