Pesticides Could Be Risk Factor for ALS
For years, scientists could find no clear risk factors -- aside from the 5-10 percent of cases that were deemed genetically based or inherited -- in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. But a new study published in JAMA Neurology suggest that the risk of developing the progressive, neurodegenerative condition that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord may be increased with exposure to pesticides.
Pesticides specifically discussed in the study include organochlorine pesticides (OCPs), such as dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT). For decades in the middle part of the 20th century, DDT was widely used in agriculture, as well as protection against insect-borne diseases like malaria. But in one of the most significant early decisions of the Environmental Protection Agency, DDT's use was banned in the United States in the 1970s when research showed that the pesticide posed a variety of serious health risks to both humans and wildlife.
"Our findings identify classes of pollutants that increase the likelihood of ALS and therefore are modifiable disease risk factors," the study's authors noted. "[As] environmental factors that affect the susceptibility, triggering, and progression of ALS remain largely unknown, we contend future studies are needed to evaluate longitudinal trends in exposure measurements, assess newer and non-persistent chemicals, consider pathogenic mechanisms, and assess phenotypic variations."