Exposure to certain pesticides might increase the risk for ALS, according to a study published May 9 in Study URL: JAMA Neurology. “Pesticides and other persistent environmental pollutants may represent modifiable ALS disease risk factors,” the researchers, based at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, wrote in the study.
ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, causing the inability to walk, write, speak, swallow and breathe.
Roughly 6,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, and more than 20,000 Americans may be living with ALS at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Military veterans are twice as likely to develop ALS.
Study co-author Stephen Goutman, director of the University of Michigan’s ALS Clinic worked with other researchers to evaluate 156 participants with ALS and 128 without the disease. They measured pesticide levels in the participants’ blood and questioned them about their exposure to pesticides as well as their occupational history. The researchers focused on 122 chemicals and pesticides, three of which were linked to increased ALS risk.
“We are identifying these toxic, persistent, environmental pollutants in higher amounts in ALS patients compared to those who do not have ALS,” Goutman said in an online May 9 HealthDay News article.
Long-term exposure to the pesticide cis-chlordane increased ALS risk nearly six times; the odds were doubled with exposure to pentachlorobenzine, used in fungicides; and nearly tripled when exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardants, according to the article.
Avoiding such chemicals can be difficult, Goutman said in the article because they’re in the air and soil and can linger for years.
Chlordane, for example, has been banned by the EPA decades ago, but continues to persist in the environment, according to the Global Healing Center.
The study’s senior author, Eva L. Feldman, said it’s important to note the research shows an association, not causation. “We found that people with ALS were five times more likely to have been exposed to pesticides, but we don’t want people to conclude that pesticides cause ALS,” Feldman said in a recent New York Times article.
In the HealthDay article, Merit Cudkowicz, MD, director of the ALS Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, said the new study “raises possibilities of the association of certain pesticides and ALS, but is far from certain.”
Cudkowicz co-authored an editorial published on line with the study and said ALS’s relation to pesticides needs further study.
The research, conducted between 2011 and 2014, was funded in part by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read about RN Madeline Kennedy’s personal journey with ALS in here End of Shift article, “My plan to beat the odds against Lou Gehrig’s disease”.
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