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Pesticides and Parkinson's: A Closer Look at the Risk and Future Recommendations

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Zara Nwosu
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Pesticides and Parkinson's: A Closer Look at the Risk and Future Recommendations

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In a move that has raised eyebrows among scientists, the European Union has renewed the approval of the herbicide glyphosate for another decade. This decision has prompted a call to action to reduce or replace the use of agrochemicals, given the established connection between pesticides and Parkinson's disease. Supported by both epidemiological and experimental evidence, this link has been the focus of a review article in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

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Glyphosate and Neurological Impacts

The article underscores the harmful impact of pesticides on the human microbiome and the gut-brain axis, particularly emphasizing the effect of glyphosate on the shikimate pathway and gut microbiome composition. The shikimate pathway is a seven-step metabolic route used by bacteria, fungi, algae, parasites, and plants for the biosynthesis of folates and aromatic amino acids. Glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant, has been found to disrupt this pathway, leading to significant health implications.

Further, pesticides are known to have direct toxic effects on the nervous system, including both central and peripheral systems. They can also lead to alterations in gut microbiota composition and function, with many of these changes mirroring those observed in patients with Parkinson's disease. This raises concerns about the long-term health effects of continued pesticide use.

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The Gut-Brain Connection

Moreover, pesticides can have indirect effects through disturbances in the gut barrier function and its microbiome, initiating a pathogenic event propagation from the enteric nervous system through the central nervous system. This connection between the gut and brain is a crucial aspect of understanding the mechanisms of toxicity and harmful cascades that contribute to the increasing incidence of Parkinson's disease.

Identifying Avoidable Risks

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It is essential to identify avoidable risk factors. A recent study found that family history of Parkinson's disease and exposure to pesticides and herbicides enhance the risk of Parkinson's in both genders. Exposure to military grade chemicals and blows to the head are also risk factors. These factors are responsible for up to 30% of Parkinson's cases in men, according to the study. By eliminating these risk factors, the incidence of Parkinson's could be prevented in some populations.

The Case of Glyphosate and Paraquat

Research has found that prenatal and early life exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides can induce oxidative stress in the brain, negatively affecting melatonin levels. This disruption has implications for the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, the herbicide paraquat, banned in numerous countries, continues to be used in the United States, raising concerns due to its toxicity and potential link to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's.

A Call to Action

The authors of the review article recommend expanding safety guidelines to consider the potential effects of pesticides on gut integrity and the microbiome. They urge for global coordinated efforts to develop biomarkers linked to Parkinson's disease pathogenesis and progression. The regulation of pesticide use is a complex issue that requires balancing public health risk minimization with global food supply concerns. However, the rising evidence of its health impacts necessitates serious consideration and action.

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