Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease: Is There a Link?

Healthnotes Newswire (July 12, 2007)—Pesticides may contribute to the development Parkinson’s disease, suggests new research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative condition of the neurological system that can lead to tremor, unstable posture, slow and rigid movements, and other serious problems. Its exact cause is not known but doctors and researchers believe it is probably caused by a variety of factors, including environmental.

The “Geoparkinson” study looked at the role of pesticides, solvents, iron, copper, and manganese in Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative conditions that have symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. Participants included 959 people who had Parkinson’s disease or a similar neurological condition (767 had Parkinson’s disease) and 1,989 people who did not have such a condition.

Through interviews and questionnaires that evaluated exposure to these substances, the study’s authors found that people who had a higher exposure to pesticides were more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than those with lower exposure. Working with pesticides (as opposed to recreational or hobby exposure) was the greatest risk. The risk for Parkinson’s disease was stronger with exposure to pesticides when compared with solvents and metals, which was a statistically significant finding. The authors point out that an association between solvents or metals and Parkinson’s disease has not been adequately studied, and further research is needed in this area.

“The Geoparkinson study provides further evidence of an association between pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s disease although we were unable to identify which pesticide is associated with this increase in disease risk,” said Finlay Dick, MD, lead author of the study and a senior lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, UK. “Parkinson’s disease is uncommon and our study has shown a modest increase in risk among people who report exposure to pesticides.”

A pesticide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a substance or mixture of substances used to destroy or prevent the proliferation of pests such as insects, weeds, rodents, fungus, and other organisms. Pesticides such as organophosphates have been demonstrated to have an adverse effect on the nervous system. According to the EPA, certain pesticides may also increase cancer risk, interfere with the hormonal system, damage the skin and eyes, and cause other problems if used incorrectly or if exposure is prolonged.

People can protect themselves by becoming aware of the potential health dangers of pesticides and limiting their exposure through a variety of means including eating more organic foods, not using pesticides on their lawn or in their gardens, and choosing nontoxic remedies for pests. It is also important when using pesticides to follow all of the precautions or warnings on product labels. People who are exposed to pesticides in their work environments should talk to a physician who is trained in occupational medicine to learn more about their risks. For more information about the health effects of pesticides go to the EPA’s Web site,

A final warning from Dr. Dick: “Pesticide users should read and follow manufacturer’s health and safety instructions, wear personal protective equipment where the risk assessment indicates it is necessary, and ensure that equipment used to apply pesticides is well maintained.”

(Occup Environ Med 2007;doi:10.1136/oem.2006.027003)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, Web sites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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