There has long been a fascination about the relationship between welding, mining and Parkinson-like symptoms. In this month’s What’s Hot blog and in my NEJM Journal Watch blog I explore this murky history and relationship. Doctors and health care professionals long ago identified a Parkinson-like syndrome that developed in welders and manganese miners. Manganese, the chemical, has been linked to Parkinson-like symptoms (also referred to as parkinsonism).
A French group presented data at the 20th International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders in Berlin Germany last month. Their results suggested a strong link between farming, pesticides and risk of Parkinson’s disease. Sofiane Kab and her colleagues demonstrated that living in rural French regions with more crops was a high risk for the later developing Parkinson’s. The authors noted that these are typically regions where vineyards are located.
There are many great mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding the potential causes of Parkinson’s disease. One of the most important and most studied is, “why are only a minority of cases caused by a single genetic abnormality?” One famous researcher from California coined the phrase, “the genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger” (Judith Stern, UC Davis). Many Parkinson’s disease researchers have refocused their efforts to attempt to identify potential environmental triggers.
The recent publication, in the American Journal of Epidemiology, addressing metal emission and urban incidence of Parkinson’s disease underscores the public’s growing concern that manganese, copper, and other metals may play a role as an environmental cause of Parkinson’s disease. Willis et. al.
Pesticides, Agent Orange, and potential environmental risk factors for the development of Parkinson’s disease continue to make the news. Patients and families may be comforted by headlines on chemicals and Parkinson’s disease, most of which they may never be exposed to. The recent report by Goldman and colleagues from the Parkinson’s Institute, a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence in Sunnyvale, CA, may open some eyes to environmental exposures and Parkinson’s disease risk.
When I was a kid we used to ride our bicycles around the neighborhood and in the afternoons we chased one of two trucks; the ice cream truck or the pesticide spraying “stink” truck. Needless to say, ice cream has not been implicated in causing Parkinson’s disease, however, certain pesticides and environmental exposures have been making the news for possible Parkinson associations. There has been a recent explosion of research into pesticide exposure and Parkinson’s disease.