Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A growing number of people under 50 are getting Parkinson’s disease, according to this news story. The “early-onset” Parkinson’s is fundamentally different than its “late-onset” counterpart, similar to the two time-dependent forms of Alzheimer’s. (More under the fold.)

Some 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, most in their 60s and 70s. The disease gradually destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical crucial for the cellular signaling that controls muscle movement. Too little dopamine causes increasingly severe tremors and periodically stiff or frozen limbs.

Up to 225,000 of those patients were diagnosed before age 50, the “young-onset” Parkinson’s that often appears without those classic symptoms. Instead of trembling, younger patients at first may find it hard to stand up straight, or drag a foot while walking.

Interestingly, the US has the highest prevalence of Parkinson’s in the world, making it truly a “disease of plenty.” Is it that we are living longer, and thus becoming more prone to age-related neurodegeneration, or is it part of who we are as Americans? As more younger people develop the disease, the question is becoming more and more muddled.

A note: As I was scanning the Wiki article on Parkinson’s, I noticed that many of the chemicals that cause Parkinsons-like symptoms are insecticides, herbicides, or heavy metals (Mercury, Manganese, Copper, etc). These are the byproducts of an industrialized society which relies heavily on chemicals. I am loathe to blame “industrialization” for another medical woe, but I doubt it is completely innocent, either.


  1. #1 Robert P
    July 13, 2006

    I was going to bring up the chemical angle. My son has food allergies, so we have to go through all the labels and figure out all the hidden ingredients. Some things are astonishing. colors from petroleum, flavors from sludge, that red meat? fake. The “waxy” looking fruit? fake. “Natural flavors”, processed, extracted, and modified.

    There is so much in our diet that is chemically modified these days. Then, go look at your yard. Watch the neighborhood spray herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers on the laws where our kids play. Then, watch the same thing happpen at the schools. At their homes. At the baseball field. The soccer field. Watch the truck pull up to the pool with big black vats more at home in an industrial park than at the local watering hole.

    We are totally screwing ourselves.

    Oh, BTW, don’t get me started on McDs…

  2. #2 SkookumPlanet
    July 17, 2006

    I posted this at Neurotopia’s reference to this topic, and thought a duplicate post here was appropriate.

    Thanks for doing this.

    I’ll extend the idea some. While these dynamics are about obvious, overt illness and the difficulty making cause and effect connections, it’s possible such profound connections produce ambiguous, highly complex, synergistic effects that present as other, poorly defined illnesses in smaller doses.

    Gulf War Syndrome immediately comes to mind. One avenue being pursued in GWS [from memory] are one or more enzymes that are neuroprotective against organophosphate damage. GIs with GWS were exposed to a witch’s brew of substances who’s synergistic effects may never be understood, including insecticide impregnated clothing. My understanding is production of these enzymes are quite variable between individuals and likely genetically controlled.

    About 15 years ago, through multiple articles in a San Francisco newspaper, I followed a story about a group of disability claimants arguing in administrative court they’d been made ill, what was then called environmental illness, by pesticide spraying by their employer at their workplace. They were dealers in a Lake Tahoe casino. They identified a specific spraying incident. One can imagine, in their 24/7/365 single-floor, sealed casino-restaurant-kitchen, the employer’s concern with vermin. Through discovery the claimants obtained the casino’s previous year’s extermination records. “Professional” [it’s a rural resort area] exterminators had come in and applied some sort of pesticide somewhere on that floor, on average, once every three days for a year. No notification was given to anyone in any way. This was not considered unusual practice.

    It’s hard to imagine that even the manufacturers would publicly accept this as wise. Yet, we can readily imagine that untrained, unknowledgeable managers across the nation with real-world problems to solve would, or could, come up with alternatives.

    Over a year ago on German television [DW] I saw a half-hour, maybe an hour, program on several German women in their 30s or 40s highly damaged, needing assistance to walk, spastic arms and legs, etc. who’s pesticide exposure came from a decade or two unpacking shipments of cheap cotton clothing from south Asia for a German retail chain. Much of the show was shot in India and showed a highly unregulated, repackaged, unmarked pesticide distribution system to small plot, individual cotton farmers. Besides lots of obviously neurological damaged people from farmers downstream, there were shots of farmers using backpack, pump sprayers spraying directly in front of themselves. They were walking their fields in a perpetual cloud of pesticide! I believe there was also more pesticide use in storage of fabric and clothing later on.

    No one interviewed from distributors on downstream had any knowledge of the dangers and appropriate use of pesticides. No one.

    Surprisingly, months after that show I received two internet-purchased, US-retailed, inexpensive white cotton bathrobes. On unsealing the first package, a heavy pesticide aroma erupted. It went immediately outside the house and I never opened the second package. Made in India.

    This is simply FYI and perhaps worthy of further coverage.

  3. #3 SkookumPlanet
    July 17, 2006

    Sorry, for the double post. This isn’t my day. The universe is giving me some sort of message which I’ll contemplate for awhile.

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    July 17, 2006

    No problem- thanks for all the interesting insights. Given me some food for thought.

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