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Paraquat and Parkinson's Disease

Numerous studies reveal possible links between exposure to the pesticide Paraquat and the development of Parkinson’s Disease

The title and subtitle of this page were taken from a report by the German Pesticide Action Network. (92 kB PDF file)

There are many instances of reports that cover the connection between Paraquat use and the incidence rate of Parkinson's Disease in agricultural workers.  Unfortunately, many reports published by the research community that address that connection are accessible only through paid subscriptions that provide the only access to those reports.  That leaves out almost all normal mortals.  Nevertheless, the abstract of one of those reports is quoted in the following.

1: Eur J Neurosci. 2003 Aug;18(3):589-600. Related Articles, Links
Click here to read 
Age-related irreversible progressive nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurotoxicity in the paraquat and maneb model of the Parkinson's disease phenotype.

Thiruchelvam M, McCormack A, Richfield EK, Baggs RB, Tank AW, Di Monte DA, Cory-Slechta DA.

Department of Environmental Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.

While advancing age is the only unequivocally accepted risk factor for idiopathic Parkinson's disease, it has been postulated that exposure to environmental neurotoxicants combined with ageing could increase the risk for developing Parkinson's disease. The current study tested this hypothesis by exposing C57BL/6 mice that were 6 weeks, 5 months or 18 months old to the herbicide paraquat, the fungicide maneb or paraquat + maneb, a combination that produces a Parkinson's disease phenotype in young adult mice. Paraquat + maneb-induced reductions in locomotor activity and motor coordination were age dependent, with 18-month-old mice most affected and exhibiting failure to recover 24 h post-treatment. Three months post-treatment, reductions in locomotor activity and deficits in motor coordination were sustained in 5-month-old and further reduced in 18-month-old paraquat + maneb groups. Progressive reductions in dopamine metabolites and dopamine turnover were greatest in 18-month-old paraquat + maneb and paraquat groups 3 months post-treatment. Increased tyrosine hydroxylase enzyme activity compensated for striatal tyrosine hydroxylase protein and/or dopamine loss following treatment in 6-week-old and 5-month-old, but not 18-month-old paraquat and paraquat + maneb mice. Numbers of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons were reduced in all age groups following paraquat alone and paraquat + maneb exposure, but these losses, along with decreases in striatal tyrosine hydroxylase protein levels, were progressive in 18-month-old paraquat and paraquat + maneb groups between 2 weeks and 3 months post-exposure. Collectively, these data demonstrate enhanced sensitivity of the ageing nigrostriatal dopamine pathway to these pesticides, particularly paraquat + maneb, resulting in irreversible and progressive neurotoxicity.

PMID: 12911755 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

The report by PAN Germany that is identified at the beginning of this page mentions what the abstract in the subsequent quote focuses on, the synergistic effect of the use of Paraquat in combination with other herbicides, fungicides or insecticides. 

Pronunciation: 'si-n&r-"ji-z&m
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin synergismus, from Greek synergos
: interaction of discrete agencies (as industrial firms), agents (as drugs), or conditions such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects


For More Information on "synergism" go to Britannica.com

Get the Top 10 Search Results for "synergism"

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

It is not only the synergism of the use of Paraquat in combination with other toxins in relation to the incidence rates of Parkinson's Disease that should concern us but that Parkinson's Disease affects men and women disproportionately.

21: Br J Psychiatry. 2005 Dec;187:583-4.

Epidemiology of intentional self-poisoning in rural Sri Lanka.

Eddleston M, Gunnell D, Karunaratne A, de Silva D, Sheriff MH, Buckley NA.
Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, PO Box 271, 25 Kynsey
Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka. eddlestonm@eureka.lk

We investigated the epidemiology of intentional self-poisoning in rural Sri
Lanka by prospectively recording 2189 admissions to two secondary hospitals.
Many patients were young (median age 25 years), male (57%) and used pesticides
(49%). Of the 198 who died,156 were men (case fatality 12.4%) and 42 were women
(4.5%). Over half of female deaths were in those under 25 years old; male deaths
were spread more evenly across age groups. Oleander and paraquat caused 74% of
deaths in people under 25 years old; thereafter organophosphorous pesticides
caused many deaths. Although the age pattern of self-poisoning was similar to
that of industrialised countries, case fatality was more than 15 times higher
and the pattern of fatal self-poisoning different.
PMID: 16319413 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

It is of course politically incorrect to admit that more men than women die of suicide, which is why we commonly find many reports like this one from less objective and more politically correct sources:

Indeed, ‘safety’ rules don’t even get the simple things right. It has long been known that the diet and drugs taken by a woman can affect her children and grandchildren. But multi-generational pesticide testing is rare. We all know that animal tests deemed thalidomide harmless. Yet a pesticide’s ‘safety’ is judged on animal tests and on calculating its effects on adult men – ignoring the vulnerability of women, the old, the unborn and children. (Link to Source)

As to the respective propensity of men and women to commit suicide, the evidence is incontrovertible:  In all countries of the world men are from about three to more than ten times more likely than women to commit suicide, yet, politically correct sources of statistics pertaining to suicides of the sexes persistently search for exceptions that they then imply are the rule:

The Australian National University

Demography and Sociology Program
Research School of Social Sciences

Pacific Island Suicide in Comparative Perspective

Heather Booth


All available data for 13 Pacific Island Nations are used in a comparative analysis of suicide levels and characteristics.  Age, sex and and method of suicide are examined in detail.  Global comparison shows that Pacific rates are amongst the highest reported.  Female youth rates exceed male rates in Western Samoa and amongst Fiji Indians.  Method of suicide (paraquat ingestion) is instrumental in determining high rates in Western Samoa, especially in females.  The broad causal theme is social transition.  Commonality and diversity are discussed. (Link to Source)

Nevertheless, globally, men are more likely than women to die from Paraquat poisoning, whether the poisoning is deliberate, accidental or on account of professional exposure.  Exceptions such as those found by Heather Booth from the Australian National University are a far cry from being the rule.  Although some reports present a more objective and less politically correct view of Paraquat poisoning, the authors of some of those reports apparently feel compelled to distort even objective statistics, unless they happen to be numerically illiterate.

Twenty-five cases of Paraquat ingestion were identified; of these, 16 died and 9 survived. Twenty 60%) of the cases were men. There were 16 cases for whom questionnaire information was available (interview cases); sex and age of interview cases were similar to those of noninterview cases. Eleven of the 12 male interview cases were agricultural workers, and I described himself as a day laborer. The 4 female interview cases were described as housewives who were married to agricultural workers. All interview cases were literate.  (Paraquat poisoning in southern Mexico: a report of 25 cases; Archives of Environmental Health, March-April, 1993 by Roberto Tinoco, Rolando Tinoco, Julie Parsonnet, David Halperin)

Twenty out of 25 cases do not constitute 60 percent but 80 percent of the cases investigated.

As the following quote from a WHO report shows, men are identified as being involved in about 70 percent of all acute pesticide poisoning cases.

Acute pesticide poisoning according to variables of interest
In people under 15 years of age, 816 cases of APP were registered (5.7 per 100,000 population under age 15) and 27 deaths (0.2 per 100,000) in the Subregion in the year 2000. This risk is smaller than that registered for the total population. Underreporting affecting the entire situation analysis deserves special attention in this age group, even more so because this group is highly vulnerable to exposure to these substances. Acute pesticide poisoning impacts a greater proportion of men, who represent approximately 70% of all cases, with a very similar pattern in all the countries....

One important point to mention is the progressive increase in pesticide importations in the Region [the Central American Isthmus] over the last decade. This increase was registered in many countries and when the pesticides are classified by type of organism it is designed to control, herbicides show a rising trend. Compared to the WHO estimates of an average pesticide burden at the global level of 0.6 kilograms per person, the burden in the Region remains very high. For 2000, the Regional incidence rate was close to 20 cases per 100,000 populations and the mortality rate was 2.1 per 100,000 populations. Cases of acute poisoning and mortality also show a rising trend. This trend may reflect a better registration system or problems due to a poor management or a greater dangerousness of this type of substances. Nicaragua and El Salvador show the highest risk. However, given the increase in imports of these substances in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, the lowest risk may reflect an underregistration problem. The case fatality associated with pesticide poisoning is high. In 2000, 11% of the APP cases resulted in death. As a response, health personnel should be trained in the management of these situations, and strict prevention and control activities should be put in place. Major efforts should be made to develop and implement strategies that lead to a drastic reduction of the use of synthetic pesticides, to the development of alternatives and subsequently to the protection of human health and the environment. Different initiatives supported by PLAGSALUD in the Centroamerican Isthmus are presented in Box 1.

Source: Epidemiological Situation of Acute Pesticide Poisoning in the Central American Isthmus, 1992-2000, from Epidemiological Bulletin, Vol. 23 No. 3, September 2002

See also:

Incidentally, not only herbicides but pesticides as well are dangerous to people.  On account of its plant origins, Rotenone is a pesticide that is deemed safe by many and therefore is permitted to be used in organic farming practices.  Still, it is also considered to be one of the pesticides that are most dangerous to humans.  Not only that, but Rotenone, too, is linked to Parkinson's Disease.

Acute toxicity
Rotenone is classified by the World Health Organisation as a moderately hazardous, Class II(18). The LD50 for rats (the amount of the chemical lethal to one-half of experimental animals) is between 132 and 1,500 mg per kilogram(19). One factor in this wide variation may be the differences in the plant extracts used(20).
    The acute oral toxicity of rotenone is moderate for mammals, but there is a wide variation between species(21). It is less toxic for the mouse and hamster than for the rat; the pig seems to be especially sensitive. Recent studies have shown that in rats, rotenone is more toxic for females than males. It is highly irritating to the skin in rabbits(22), and to the eyes. In rats and dogs exposed to rotenone in dust form, the inhalation fatal dose was uniformly smaller than the oral fatal dose(23). 
    Rotenone is believed to be moderately toxic to humans with an oral lethal dose estimated from 300 to 500 mg/kg(24). A lowest lethal dose of 143 mg/kg has been cited in a child(25). Clinical experience seems to indicate that children, in particular, are rather sensitive to the acute effects of rotenone(26).
    Human fatalities are rare, perhaps because rotenone is usually sold in low concentrations (one to five per cent formulation), and because its irritating action causes prompt vomiting. If the dust particle size is very small, and can enter deep regions of the lungs, rotenone’s toxicity when inhaled may be increased. Acute local effects include conjunctivitis, dermatitis, sore throat, congestion, and vomiting. Inhalation of high doses can cause increased respiration followed by depression and convulsions(27). On the basis of rabbit studies, absorption through the intact skin is low(28).

Chronic effects
Studies on dogs at high doses produced adverse changes in blood chemistry(29). In dogs fed rotenone at 10 mg/kg per day for six months, weight loss and haematological effects were found. A No Observed Adverse Effect Level (NOAEL) of 0.4 mg/kg per day has been determined for rats (2-year study), and dogs (16-month study)(30). (Link to source)

It needs to be mentioned here that Paraquat is, as is Rotenone, classified by the WHO as being moderately hazardous (Class II).

See also: The 1989 Montreal Massacre in the context of men’s sacrifices, 2008 12 07, by Professor Jeffrey Asher.

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Posted 2006 04 22