Parkinson’s disease is the second-most prevalent neurodegenerative condition in Australia, with an estimated 70,000 Australians living with the disease.
Recently, ABC News reported on research showing a cluster of Parkinson’s disease cases in rural Victoria that may be linked to the use of pesticides. Although pesticides may not be the sole cause, researchers have recommended further studies to look at the link between farming practices and Parkinson’s disease. The crops farmed in these rural areas were chickpeas, broad beans, lentils and vetches (winter-growing legumes used for animal feed).2
An earlier report by ABC Rural stated that research is being conducted to test the effects of organophosphate pesticides on the nervous systems of farmers. This 12 month study will be the first step in determining whether the accumulation of organophosphates in the body is linked with aggressive cancers, neurological and/or psychotic conditions.3
Many Australian farmers may still use pesticides in sheep, beef, grain and dairy industries, even if they are banned, for economic reasons. Interestingly, organophosphates have been banned or restricted in the U.S., the U.K. and Europe.3
The risk of pesticide exposure affects many populations
Studies looking at many different populations have found that exposure to pesticides, organic solvents, heavy metals and air pollutants have been associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.4
One study showed that patients exposed to pesticides had a 70% higher incidence of Parkinson’s.
The risk was the same for farmers and non-farmers. Furthermore, the study found that one of the pesticides increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease by 2.5 fold.5
How pesticides increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease
The definitive cause of this degenerative disease is not known; however, it is believed that pesticides may destroy dopamine-releasing neurons in the substantia nigra through a variety of mechanisms. This area of the brain is important for movement co-ordination. Death to the nigral cells has the potential to cause symptoms of tremors, slowed movements and rigidity.5
The degree of toxicity pesticide exposure causes may also be linked to the individual’s genetic polymorphisms affecting absorption, metabolism and excretion.4
- Ayton Dr D, Warren Dr N, Ayton Dr S. What we know and suspect about the causes of Parkinson’s disease: Monash University; 2016. Viewed July 2016. http://monash.edu/news/show/what-we-know-and-suspect-about-the-causes-ofparkinsons-disease.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Parkinson’s ‘cluster’ in Victoria could be linked to pesticides: Australian Broadcasting Corporation; 2016. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-11/researchers-find-parkinsons-cluster-inrural-victoria/7315066.
- Grindlay D. Research to examine links between pesticides and Parkinson’s: Australian Broadcasting Corporation;
- Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-17/chemicals-pesticide-organophosphates-researchfarmer-health/7175340.