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Daily News Blog

11
May

Pesticide Exposure Increases the Risk of All Seizure Disorders, Especially Epilepsy

(Beyond Pesticides, May 11, 2023) A study published in NeuroToxicology finds occupational (work-related), chronic exposure to pesticides increases risk factors of epilepsy, a neurological disorder causing unprovoked, reoccurring seizures. Mounting evidence over the past years shows that chronic exposure to sublethal (low) levels of pesticides can cause neurotoxic effects or exacerbate preexisting chemical damage to the nervous system. Although the mechanism by which pesticides induce disease development remains unclear, this study suggests environmental pesticide exposure increases seizure risk through mechanisms at molecular or subcellular levels.

Approximately 3.4 million individuals in the U.S. live with epilepsy, and mortality from this disorder is rising nationwide. Over 300 environmental contaminants and their byproducts, including pesticides, are chemicals commonly present in human blood and urine samples and can increase neurotoxicity risk when crossing the brain barrier. Considering half of all epilepsy etiologies (causes) are of idiopathic (unknown) origins, studies like this highlight the importance of understanding how consistent chemical exposure can impact long-term health and disease prognosis. The study notes, “[The] approach to a real-world exposure scenario to pesticides in a large agriculture area over 17 years; […] can be linked to the novel approaches proposed for simulating real-life exposures, thus contributing to a better understanding of the real-life risk associated with long-term exposure to multiple pesticides.”

To determine work-related risk factors associated with epilepsy among farmers and pesticide applicators, researchers performed a case-control study on 19,704 individuals from 2000 to 2016 (17 years) to observe epilepsy cases. Researchers gathered data from Almería (South-Eastern Spain) hospital records and the Centre for Prevention of Occupational Risks. Of the 19,704 individuals, 5,091 have a record of epilepsy. The researchers attribute an increase in epilepsy risk among those working in chemical-intensive, enclosed (indoor) agriculture (high-yield greenhouse crops) compared to chemical-intensive, open-air (outdoor) agriculture (open-air crops). However, this study supports previous findings on the association between epilepsy and pesticide exposure in the general population. Epilepsy risk is greatest among individuals living in rural areas with high pesticide use (e.g., farming regions) and individuals without proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks.

Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder that affects a person’s brain (e.g., stroke, brain tumors, traumatic brain, or head injuries) and central nervous system (CNS). These conditions can disrupt nerve cell communication in the brain and lead to prolonged seizures (status epilepticus) due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Although the most common cause of seizures is epilepsy, not every person who has a seizure has epilepsy. Although medical treatments can manage epilepsy, typical anti-seizure medication for epilepsy is ineffective in the treatment of non-epileptic seizures. Certain chemicals, including pesticides, can be seizurogenic chemicals or toxic agents that cause seizures by different mechanisms and molecular pathways. The most known mechanisms include hyperstimulation of nicotinic and muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (neurotransmitters), blockage of voltage-gated sodium channels, altered function of GABAergic neurons, glutamatergic hyperactivity, neuronal excitotoxicity, intracellular calcium overload, oxidative stress, and increased neuroinflammatory responses, among others. Pesticides with neurotoxic properties include organophosphates, carbamates, and organochlorines. 

Despite many studies linking acute pesticide poisonings to seizures, this study is one of the few to address concerns about those chronically exposed to pesticides. A 2016 study in the same region of Spain demonstrates workers who applied pesticides were more likely to have neurological symptoms lasting more than two days, such as cramps, tremors, muscle fatigue, loss of consciousness, and convulsions. Many pesticides used in the past and present can lead to the formation of a single seizure or epilepsy due to chronic poisoning. Thus, the study highlights the importance of PPE as a preventive measure critical for reducing the risk of developing pesticide-related symptoms and diseases. Farmers without gloves and masks have two- and three-time higher risks of epilepsy, respectively. The Agricultural Health Study (AHS) used to estimate pesticide exposure intensity expects farmers to experience a 90 percent reduction in pesticide exposure when using proper PPE. However, PPE alone is not enough to prevent pesticide exposure, especially for everyday exposure from disinfectants, residues on food, and contamination of the ecosystem. The study concludes, “[…P]revious findings suggesting a higher risk of epilepsy in the general population associated to pesticide exposure and extends the presumed increased risk to farmers occupationally exposed to pesticides, particularly those with lack of or improper use of PPE.”

The brain and nervous system are an integral part of the human body and include the brain, spinal cord, and a vast network of nerves and neurons, all of which are responsible for many of our bodily functions—from sense to movement. The impacts of pesticides on the nervous system are hazardous, especially for chronically exposed individuals (e.g., farmworkers) or during critical windows of vulnerability and development (e.g., childhood, pregnancy). Researchers identify the role agricultural chemicals play in CNS impacts causing neurological diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s diseasedementia-like diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and other effects on cognitive function. Therefore, studies related to pesticides and neurological disorders can help scientists understand the underlying mechanisms that cause neurodegenerative diseases. As captured by epidemiologic studies in Beyond Pesticides’ Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD) and Daily News Blog, the adverse health effects of pesticides, exposure, and the aggregate risk of pesticides showcase a need for more accurate research on pesticide exposure. Existing information, including this study, supports the clear need for a strategic shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the effects of pesticide exposure on neurological health, see Beyond Pesticides’ PIDD pages on brain and nervous system disorders, including epilepsy and seizures, and other impacts on cognitive function

Beyond Pesticides advocates for organic land and agriculture management as a precautionary approach to pest prevention and management. Buyinggrowing, and supporting organic can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment and from your diet. For more information on why organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers who grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: NeuroToxicology

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One Response to “Pesticide Exposure Increases the Risk of All Seizure Disorders, Especially Epilepsy”

  1. 1
    James A Marshall Says:

    my 32 year old son started having granmal
    seizures after he started applying roundup over 15 years ago and using it per labeled instructions. he has worsened over the years with the seizures are more intense and have left him obviously mentally and cognitively impaired to the point can’t hold a thought or communicate properly at all! he used roundup for years and doctor’s don’t know what is causing seizures but roundup is the number one culprit!
    please give advice, etc.
    if you will to help him have any medical help and compensation from this still legal pesticide please.
    Thank You,
    James Marshall
    ps this is urgent please.

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