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Pesticide link to Parkinson's disease

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Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have found an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease among those exposed to pesticides.

Previous research has shown that pesticides, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, may affect the way a cell's mitochondria function, the Telegraph reports.

In Parkinson's sufferers, the brain's dopamine-producing cells are "damaged, dead, or otherwise degenerated" - leading to a lack of this chemical "which transmits signals within the brain to produce smooth movement of muscles". The results, Parkinsons.org explains, range from "tremor, or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face" to "postural instability or impaired balance and coordination".

Low-level exposure to pesticides, such as that experienced by amateur gardeners, made it 1.13 times more likely they'd succumb to the disease than "those who had never been exposed", the researchers found. This increased to 1.41 in the case of high-level exposure, for instance among farmers.

The EU-funded study probed 3,000 people in Italy, Romania, Scotland, and Sweden including 767 with Parkinson's. Participants "completed a questionnaire on their lifetime occupational and recreational exposure to solvents, pesticides, iron, copper, and manganese".

The study's lead boffin, Dr Finlay Dick, said: "Pesticide use is associated with Parkinson's disease and this has implications for users of these agents. Further research is needed to establish which pesticides are associated with this effect."

Dick hopes that once identified, the offending chemicals can be replaced with non-threatening alternatives.

This new at-risk group can be added to the best-known victims of Parkinson's - boxers. As the case of Muhammed Ali appears to prove, getting knocked senseless for a living substantially increases the possibility of subsequent degeneration.

According to Dick, the disease "occurred 1.35 times more frequently in people who had been knocked unconscious once than those who had never been knocked out, and 2.53 times more frequently in those who had been knocked out more often".

He said: "This finding, if confirmed, has implications for all contact sports and, in particular, combat sports such as boxing. Head injury has previously been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson's disease, but the results have been inconsistent."

The Aberdeen Uni findings are published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. ®

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