If you aren’t eating organic food now, you will at least consider it after you read this.
The story I’m going to tell you sounds like the plot to a TV show.
In the 1940s, researchers at Hoffman-La-Roche figured out how to make a type of synthetic heroin called MPPP (desmethylprodine 1,3,dimethyl-4-phenyl-4propionoxyperidine). But the drug company decided it wasn’t interested in trying to manufacture the drug.
Then times changed and so-called recreational drugs became very popular indeed. In the 1970s, 23-year-old Barry Kidston in Maryland read about MPPP and decided to cook some up in his parents’ garage and try it. But he wasn’t an experienced chemist. MPPP has to be produced at a carefully controlled temperature. Otherwise, the final product includes a toxin called MPTP.
So the drug Kidston produced was dangerously rich in MPTP. This bungled little drug operation led to an important discovery about diseases of the nervous system.
MPTP is bad news for the brain. It kills off cells in a section of the brain called the substantia nigra that produces most of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and also helps coordinate the body’s movement. Connections from this part of the brain are crucial to initiating and controlling motion.
When too many of these neurons stop functioning, motor skills are impaired, causing the familiar symptoms of Parkinson’s disease: tremors and shaking, slower movement and walking, muscle rigidity and stiffness, and severe speech difficulties.
When those problems afflicted young Mr. Kidston, he was treated for Parkinson’s. For researchers investigating Parkinson’s, though, the chemical analysis of his garage-formulated MPTP was the first big clue as to how Parkinson’s disease could start.
An Epidemic of Drug-Caused Parkinson’s
Cut to hospital emergency rooms in California in 1982. Patients start showing up who somehow have developed advanced Parkinson’s disease overnight. Doctors are stumped. Usually, Parkinson’s starts slowly, rarely shows up in anyone under the age of 50 and takes years to develop as it gradually alters the brain.
But a toxicologist who was called in to analyze the synthetic heroin these people were using remembered the Kidston case. And then, when William Langston, a neurologist in San Jose, went to the Stanford library to look up the Hoffman-La-Roche research on MPPP from the 1940s, he discovered that someone had cut out the page with the chemical formula from the archival journal.
Dr. Langston reasoned that whoever had taken that page and started trying to produce MPPP was making the same temperature mistake Kidston had made.
Signs Point to Pesticides and Herbicides
After doctors and researchers determined that the contaminant MPTP in synthetic heroin was causing Parkinson’s-type problems, lab analysis showed that when the body metabolizes MPTP it produces a substance called MPP+.
Scientists already knew something about MPP+. A form of MPP+ is used as the herbicide cyperquat. It is also chemically similar to the herbicide paraquat.
That led researchers to investigate the rates of Parkinson’s among people living in rural areas among farm fields that are treated with pesticides and herbicides. The scientists discovered that these folks have a significantly increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. 1
Continuing research showed that exposure to pesticides can increase your risk by 70 percent over the course of about a decade (the length of one particular study).2
These chemicals don’t affect everyone the same way. Studies at UCLA demonstrate that your risk of Parkinson’s disease from pesticides depends on your genes.3
The UCLA research first determined that the fungicide benomyl, a chemical now banned in the United States, interferes with an enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). In the brain, ALDH detoxifies chemicals called aldehydes which are lethal to dopamine cells. Without ALDH, the death of these cells can result in Parkinson’s.
Then the UCLA researchers discovered that 11 other pesticides limit the function of ALDH and make many people more vulnerable to Parkinson’s.
And it doesn’t take a big dose of these poisons. The threat begins at lower levels than the concentrations used in agriculture.
According to researcher Jeff Bronstein, M.D., Ph.D., if you have a common genetic variant of what’s called the ALDH2 gene, you are among those more vulnerable to harm from ALDH-inhibiting pesticides. The gene makes you anywhere from two to six times more likely to develop Parkinson’s from pesticide exposure than someone without that form of the gene.
Want my opinion? I think this is an extremely significant public health danger. Let me highlight what Dr. Bronstein said. . .
“We were very surprised that so many pesticides inhibited ALDH and at quite low concentrations, concentrations that were way below what was needed for the pesticides to do their job. These pesticides are pretty ubiquitous, and can be found on our food supply and are used in parks and golf courses and in pest control inside buildings and homes. So this significantly broadens the number of people at risk.”
You can lower your risk for these complications by eating organic food whenever possible and not using pesticides at home.
Remember, Parkinson’s is the second most prevalent neuron-destroying brain condition linked to aging – right behind Alzheimer’s. Keep these problematic toxins out of your life.