Pesticides May Double Risk of Parkinson’s—Tips to Stay Healthy

Wednesday Mar 19 | BY |
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Exposure to pesticides can increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

We all know it’s best to avoid pesticides. So far, they’ve been linked to an increased risk of endometriosis, reproductive problems, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, ADHD and lower IQ levels in children, birth defects, and more.

Now, a new study confirms what science has hinted at in the past—pesticides can also increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

A Serious and Debilitating Movement Disorder

According to the Parkinson’s disease Foundation (PDF), as many as one million Americans live with the disease, with about 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

A chronic and progressive movement disorder, Parkinson’s causes the malfunction and death of nerve cells in the brain (neurons). Once damaged, they can no longer produce “dopamine,” a nerve-signaling molecule that helps control muscle movement. Over time, the disorder causes symptoms like tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement, and impaired balance and coordination.

What causes Parkinson’s has remained largely unknown. Scientists believe it may come about as a result of a number of factors, including genetics, environmental toxins, and aging. But unfortunately for those suffering from the disease, the discoveries have been slow in coming.

Early Evidence of Pesticide Connection

In 2012, Environmental Health Perspectives published a meta-analysis of studies looking at the potential connection between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease. Researchers reviewed a total of 46 studies, and found a positive association between herbicides and pesticides and the disease, with those individuals working with pesticides as part of their job more at risk.

“This review affirms the evidence that exposure to herbicides and insecticides increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease,” the authors wrote. “Future studies should focus on more objective and improved methods of pesticide exposure assessment.”

For the new study, Italian researchers pulled data from 104 studies published between 1975 and 2011. Overall, they found that pesticides were tied to a 58 percent increase risk of developing Parkinson’s. The plant killer “paraquat” and fungus killers “maneb” and “mancozeb” were specifically tied to doubling the risk. Also, researchers found that the longer the period of exposure to the pesticide, the greater the risk of Parkinson’s.

Genetics Increases Your Risk

Scientists already suspect that Parkinson’s has a hereditary component, but a 2014 study sheds more light on this theory. UCLA researchers looked at 360 people with Parkinson’s from three California farming communities that used pesticides. They then compared these with over 800 people from the same regions who did not have the disease.

Prior to the study, researchers discovered a link between Parkinson’s and a fungicide called “benomyl,” which was banned in 2001 by the EPA after being named a possible carcinogen. Their investigation found that benomyl blocks a protective enzyme called “aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH),” which changes aldehydes that are toxic to dopamine cells into those that are less toxic. When ALDH is blocked, Parkinson’s has a better chance of taking hold.

Researchers wondered if other pesticides may have a similar effect. They found eleven more that blocked ALDH and increased the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

“We were very surprised that so many pesticides inhibited ALDH and at quite low concentrations,” said Dr. Jeff M. Bronstein, one of the study authors, “concentrations that were way below what was needed for the pesticides to do their job.” He went on to say that these pesticides can be found in the food supply, and are also used in parks, golf courses, and inside buildings and homes.

Furthermore, participants who had a common genetic variant of the ALDH2 gene were found to be even more susceptible to the ALDH-blocking effects of the pesticides. Results showed they were two to six times more likely to develop the disease than those who didn’t have the same genetic variant.

How to Reduce Your Risk

The first recommendation for anyone working with pesticides is to wear proper protection. Farmers, particularly, need to be sure they’re wearing equipment recommended by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Here are some additional tips:

  • Buy organic produce. (Look for the number on the sticker to start with a “9” and be five digits long.)
  • Buy local. National surveys show that fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets have fewer pesticides even if they’re not organic.
  • Refer to the Environmental Working Group’s shopping guide or Earth Easy’s Pesticides and Produce to find out which items have the highest levels of pesticide residue.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables before eating, even if you have to peel them. (Residue from cutting knives and fingernails can get from the peel to the edible section.) Drying with a clean cloth or paper towel can also help.
  • Grow your own produce.
  • Use green methods for controlling pests in your home, including cedar oil, diatomaceous earth, and other options. Find more natural pest control options here.
  • Have everyone remove their shoes before coming into your home. Pesticides can be tracked in on soles.

Do you have other tips for reducing pesticide exposure? Please share them with our readers.

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Kagan Owens, Jay Feldman and John Kepner, “Wide Range of Diseases Linked to Pesticides,” Pesticides and You, Volume 30, No. 2, Summer 2010,

Marianne van der Mark, Maartje Brouwer, et al., “Is Pesticides Use Related to Parkinson Disease? Some Clues to Heterogeneity in Study Results,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2012 March; 120(3):340-347.

Gianni Pezzoli, et al., “Exposure to pesticides or solvents and risk of Parkinson disease,” Neurology May 28, 2013; 80(22): 2035-2041,

Alexandra Sifferlin, “The Pesticide on Your Fruit May Lead to Parkinson’s,” Time, February 3, 2014,

“Low-level pesticide exposure linked to Parkinson’s disease,” Medical News Today, February 4, 2014,

“6 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides,” Earth Easy, May 20, 2010,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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