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Gov. Links Two Pesticides to Parkinson’s Disease

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March 7, 2011

A government study shows an association between two pesticides, rotenone and paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) collaborated with the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center to determine if there is an association between pesticides and other neurotoxins and Parkinson’s. The study, called the Farming & Movement Evaluation (FAME) Study, is a case-control study of 110 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s and 358 matched controls. Results show that people exposed to rotenone and paraquat were 2.5 times more likely to develop this disease than people who were not exposed.

Parkinson’s disease affects more than 500,000 people in the United States. It affects the brain and results in involuntary shaking and tremors.

The FAME study is part of the Agricultural Health Study (AHS) involving 90,000 licensed pesticide applicators and their spouses to study adverse health effects such as cancer resulting from farm related exposures, including pesticides.

“Rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria, the structure responsible for making energy in the cell,” Freya Kamel, Ph.D., a researcher in the intramural program at NIEHS and co-author of the paper appearing online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, said in a news release. “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.”

Consumers do not have to worry that rotenone and paraquat are in household pesticides because they are commercial agricultural products. Rotenone is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to kill invasive fish species and paraquat is only available to certified pesticide applicators.

"These findings help us to understand the biologic changes underlying Parkinson’s disease. This may have important implications for the treatment and ultimately the prevention of Parkinson’s disease," said Caroline Tanner, M.D., Ph.D., clinical research director of the Parkinson’s Institute and Clinical Center, and lead author of the article.

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  1. Lisa says:
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    My husband has had Parkinson’s for 23 years, beginning in 1988. He was 38 years old.

    When he was in high school, a common summer job was working for Union Carbide Corporation. His job was to go INTO the holding tanks of various chemicals and scrub the interior.

    This was pre-EPA, OSHA, etc. He work NO protective garb of any kind. Roughly 20 years later he is diagnosed with Parkinsons.

    If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, its….