There have been tentative links made between pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease before. However, the term “pesticide” is broad and includes chemicals with varied compositions. Few investigations have identified specific pesticides. But now a study out of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has identified two specific culprits they say are linked to Parkinson’s disease: paraquat and rotenone.
The study — a joint effort between the NIH and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences — has found that people who used either pesticide developed Parkinson’s disease approximately 2.5 times more often than non-users.
What could be happening here? According to the researchers, rotenone directly inhibits the function of the mitochondria. Your mitochondria are responsible for making energy in all of your cells. And paraquat seems to have equally destructive powers: the chemical increases production of certain oxygen derivatives that may harm cellular structures.
To get their results, the research team studied 110 people with Parkinson’s disease and 358 matched controls from the Farming and Movement Evaluation (FAME) Study. They then used the data to investigate the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to pesticides or other agents that are toxic to nervous tissue.
The investigators diagnosed those participants with Parkinson’s disease by soliciting the opinion of movement disorder specialists. The lifelong use of pesticides was determined by conducting detailed interviews with the patients.
The researchers say the findings could lead to a better understanding of the biologic changes that occur in someone who has Parkinson’s. And this better understanding will in turn lead to better treatment and ultimately the prevention of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that affects movement. Normally, when you move your muscles, a chemical called “dopamine” is responsible for carrying signals between the nerves in your brain. When your cells that produce dopamine die, the symptoms of Parkinson’s appear.
A person who has Parkinson’s may experience tremors, slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, fatigue, soft speech and/or problems with handwriting.
The medical community says there is no cure for Parkinson’s. You can live with the condition for years. Usually the symptoms are treated with medication. Some people with Parkinson’s even try surgery.
There are many theories out there about what causes Parkinson’s. But no one knows for sure why cells that produce dopamine when they are healthy suddenly start dying.