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The Troubling Link Between Pesticides & Parkinson's Disease Risk

Hannah Frye
Author:
March 18, 2024
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
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Image by Sergey Narevskih / Stocksy
March 18, 2024
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If you do a quick internet search on pesticides and human health, frightening phrases like "possible carcinogen" and "nervous system harm" are aplenty. But how much does exposure raise the risk of certain diseases? And what can be done about it?

While there's still loads of research to be done, we're on our way to understanding, and hopefully preventing, some of the harmful effects of pesticides on human health. One new study dives deeper into the possible link between pesticides and Parkinson's disease (the fastest-growing neurological disease worldwide1), with compelling findings that contribute to our understanding of this complex issue. 

The link between pesticides and Parkinson's

According to the abstract of the yet-to-be-published study, researchers found that the application of 14 pesticides from 1992 to 2008 was strongly associated with Parkinson's disease (PD) risk in rural counties in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains region. Three pesticides in particular—simazine (an herbicide), lindane (an insecticide that has since been banned), and atrazine (an herbicide)—had the strongest relationship with PD.

The regions studied included parts of Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. People living in counties with the highest use of these three pesticides ran a 25-36% greater risk of Parkinson's than those with the lowest use (broken down, the risk was 36% higher for simazine, 25% for lindane, and 31% for atrazine).

To arrive at these findings, researchers analyzed data from 21,549,400 Medicare beneficiaries (ages 67+ in 2009). They then examined county-level United States Geological Survey estimates on pesticide use between 1992 and 2008.

"There was a modest dose-response relationship between PD risk and all three pesticides," the study states, meaning that the more pesticides used in a country, the greater the risk of Parkinson's disease among its residents.

Though individual exposure data was not collected, this research suggests that while people who work in farming may be more at risk of negative health impacts2 from pesticide exposure, those in surrounding areas may also be affected.

This new research will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 76th Annual Meeting next month. It's just the latest study to suggest that pesticide exposure may be associated with Parkinson's risk. One study from 2011 found a link between the pesticide rotenone and herbicide paraquat3 and Parkinson's disease risk as well. We've known that chemical exposure, in general, may correlate to Parkinson's development for nearly 40 years, since the mid-1980s4.

Each new finding paints a clearer picture of what chemicals need special attention and regulation for the sake of disease prevention.

The U.S. is less restrictive of pesticides than other nations. Of the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides used in U.S. agriculture in 2016, approximately 322 million pounds were pesticides banned in the EU, 40 million pounds were pesticides banned in China, and nearly 26 million pounds were pesticides banned in Brazil, according to a 2019 report published in Environmental Health.

"It's concerning that previous studies have identified other pesticides and herbicides as potential risk factors for Parkinson's, and there are hundreds of pesticides that have not yet been studied for any relationship to the disease... Much more research is needed to determine these relationships and hopefully to inspire others to take steps to lower the risk of disease by reducing the levels of these pesticides," study author Brittany Krzyzanowski, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Where to go from here

At this point, pesticides are essential to keeping global food systems running. Still, studies like these are equally frightening and important, giving us a deeper understanding of how these chemicals might be negatively impacting human health in the long run.

While there are steps you can take to limit your personal exposure, like refraining from using chemical pesticides in your own home or garden, the real responsibility falls on companies creating pesticides to have higher standards for safety and use research like this to hopefully prevent disease and save lives in the future. 

The takeaway

A recent study shed light on how specific pesticides, particularly simazine, atrazine, and lindane, may heighten the risk of Parkinson's disease. Hopefully, research like this will trigger tighter regulations that safeguard communities against the health hazards of pesticide exposure, ensuring a healthier future for all.

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