From: Mark Wheeler, University of California - Los Angeles
Published April 21, 2009 10:40 AM

Pesticide exposure found to increase risk of Parkinson's disease

The fertile soil of California's Central Valley has long made it famous as one of the nation's prime crop-growing regions. But it's not just the soil that allows for such productivity. Crops like potatoes, dry beans and tomatoes have long been protected from bugs and weeds by the fungicide maneb and the herbicide paraquat.

Scientists know that in animal models and cell cultures, such pesticides trigger a neurodegenerative process that leads to Parkinson's disease. Now, researchers at UCLA provide the first evidence for a similar process in humans.

In a new epidemiological study of Central Valley residents who have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, researchers found that years of exposure to the combination of these two pesticides increased the risk of Parkinson's by 75 percent. Further, for people 60 years old or younger diagnosed with Parkinson's, earlier exposure had increased their risk for the disease by as much as four- to six-fold.

Reporting in the April 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, Beate Ritz, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health, and Sadie Costello, a former doctoral student at UCLA who is now at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Central Valley residents who lived within 500 meters of fields sprayed between 1974 and 1999 had a 75-percent increased risk for Parkinson's.

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In addition, people who were diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 60 or younger were found to have been at much higher risk because they had been exposed to maneb, paraquat or both in combination between 1974 and 1989, years when they would have been children, teens or young adults.

The researchers enrolled 368 longtime residents diagnosed with Parkinson's and 341 others as a control group.

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs motor skills, speech and other functions. It has been reported to occur at high rates among farmers and in rural populations, contributing to the hypothesis that agricultural pesticides may be partially responsible.

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