Currently, five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's.
Scientists have known for more than 40 years that the synthetic pesticide DDT is detrimental to bird habitats and a danger to the environment, according to a statement from Rutgers University. Now, a new study has found that exposure to DDT, which has been banned in the United States since 1972, may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study published by JAMA Neurology reveals that the levels of DDE, the chemical left when DDT breaks down, were higher in the blood of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease patients compared to those without the disease.
“I think these results demonstrate that more attention should be focused on potential environmental contributors and their interaction with genetic susceptibility,” posits Jason R. Richardson, associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute. “Our data may help identify those that are at risk for Alzheimer’s disease and could potentially lead to earlier diagnosis and an improved outcome.”
Although levels of DDT and DDE have decreased significantly in the United States over the past 30 years (DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1972), the chemical takes decades to breakdown in the environment and, as a result, the toxic pesticide is still found in 75 to 80 percent of the blood samples collected by the Center for Disease Control Prevention for a national health and nutrition survey.
In the Rutgers study, 74 out of the 86 Alzheimer’s patients involved had DDE blood levels nearly four times higher than the 79 people in the control group who did not have Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients with a version of ApoE gene, which significantly raises the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and high blood levels of DDE showed even more severe cognitive impairment than the patients without the risk gene.
Although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s disease is not known, scientists think that late-onset Alzheimer’s may be associated with a combination of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
“This study demonstrates that there are additional contributors to Alzheimer’s disease that must be examined and that may help identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” notes Richardson. “It is important because when it comes to diagnosing and treating this and other neurodegenerative diseases, the earlier someone is diagnosed, the more options there may be available.”
Currently, five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s.