Synthetic pesticides and other similar chemicals have long been identified as an environmental threat due to toxic long-lasting effects on the atmosphere and bird habitats. However, a new study conducted by investigators at Rutgers University, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center suggested that DDT can directly affect the health of humans as well.
According to the latest research, exposure to DDT can directly increase the risk of developing cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s disease (individuals over 60 years are at risk of developing a much severe disease). The report indicated that although the use of DDT has been banned in United States for over 4 decades, the chemical is use frequently in many parts of the world as a popular pesticide.
According to the research report, which was published online in the peer reviewed journal JAMA Neurology, the authors suggested that DDT is metabolized to DDE in the human body and may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), since the serum concentration of metabolic compound was fairly high in AD patients with late-onset disease as compared to normal control.
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In the United States, DDT was introduced during World War II as a potent chemical to control the growth of pests and insects that may cause diseases in livestock or affect the quality of crops. DDT was also used to counteract mosquito growth in order to prevent malaria and other diseases. This study is the first to establish a positive association of neurodegenerative damage caused by DDE and DDT in exposed susceptible individuals.
Details of the Study:
Rutgers University, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Emory University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center investigators studied the blood samples of 86 Alzheimer’s patients and 79 control subjects (with no AD). The mean age of patients was 74 years. The serological investigation suggested that 85 – 90% of the study sample (or 74 AD patients) had 4-times higher concentration of DDE as compared to control subjects.
Certain risk factors like mutated ApoE gene (ApoE4) are strongly associated with the development of AD in individuals. The research team suggested that exposure to DDE is associated with a more severe cognitive impairment due to higher chances of protein plaque formation in the brain that is associated with characteristic symptoms of AD.
Associate professor at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Jason R. Richardson, suggested: “I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility. Our data may help identify those that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and an improved outcome.”
Richardson is also a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI).
Although the use of DDT has decreased tremendously across United States, the research study suggested that a vast majority of blood samples (approx. 75 to 80 percent) still show detectable quantities of DDE. There may be many explanations for this finding; for example, although the active use of DDT has diminished, the environmental breakdown and dissolution of chemical may take years. Likewise, since the pesticide is used popularly in many parts of the world, the imported grains, fruits and other crops may be a potential source of serological DDE. Moreover, the fish and other seafood consumed in United States may be contaminated with DDE due to mixing of foreign waters.
Richardson explained that further research is needed to develop a more scientific and molecular association of the interaction of DDE and DDT chemicals with the amyloid plaques that are formed in AD.
According to recent estimates, the current prevalence of AD is over 5 million and overall numbers are expected to rise further in coming years. AD is believed to have a multifactorial origin of occurrence with complex interplay of environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors as primary contributors.
Richardson added: “This study demonstrates that there are additional contributors to Alzheimer’s disease that must be examined and that may help identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. It is important because when it comes to diagnosing and treating this and other neurodegenerative diseases, the earlier someone is diagnosed, the more options there may be available.”
The research team included:
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Rutgers: Ananya Roy, Brian Buckley and Stuart Shalat
Emory University School of Medicine: Maria Gearing and Allan Levey
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: Dwight German