A new study shows that some pesticides and flame retardants may increase a person’s risk for developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
"From the first ALS patient I saw over 25 years ago to the ALS patient I diagnosed this week, I am always asked the same question: 'Why me? What is different about my life that I got this disease?'" says study co-senior author Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.,Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute. "I want to answer that question for my patients."
The study, published by researchers from the University of Michigan, was part of a larger study in environmental risk factors for ALS.
The research team studied 156 people with ALS and 128 without it, and found that several different types of chemicals are more present in individuals with ALS.
Presence of cis-chlordane, a pesticide used in the U.S. until the 1980s, was associated with nearly six times the risk of ALS, while the presence of polybrominated diphenyl ether, a flame retardant that has also been linked to increased risk of autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, was associated with the disease at a rate of about 2.7 times the risk. Exposure to pentachlorobenzene -- used to manufacture certain fungicides -- was associated with a doubled risk of ALS.
"We are likely all exposed without our own knowledge, from the air, water and our diet, as these chemicals can last decades in the environment,” says co-first author Stephen Goutman, M.D., director of the U-M Comprehensive ALS Clinic. “However, persons with ALS, overall, had higher concentrations of these chemicals, especially in regards to pesticides."
From here, it is important to uncover the true link between Lou Gherig disease and these chemicals.
"The challenge is that persons are likely exposed to multiple chemicals and therefore it is too soon for us to know whether individual chemicals, or mixtures of chemicals, lead to motor neuron damage," Goutman says. "Next, we will really dive into particular chemicals that could be risk factors for the disease."
Other neurodegenerative illnesses have already been linked to pesticide exposure, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
ALS, also known as Lou Gherig's disease, affects an individual’s strength and ability to move their limbs. Approximately 30,000 people are affected by the illness every year. There is currently no cure for ALS.
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Spraying pesticides image via Shutterstock