April marks Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Established by the Parkinson’s Foundation, the month-long observation aims to raise broader awareness of Parkinson’s disease, some of its potential causes, and the resources available for those who are impacted by the disease.
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Parkinson’s disease is a slow-developing neurodegenerative disorder that predominantly impacts dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. While symptoms vary in severity from person to person, Parkinson’s is commonly associated with tremors, gait and balance issues, and limb rigidity.
Certain environmental triggers are commonly associated with a higher risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Learning to notice, understand, and avoid such triggers can go a long way toward defending yourself and others against the disease.
Environmental Triggers of Parkinson’s Disease
When it comes to Parkinson’s disease, much is known about the risk factors that may create a stronger likelihood of developing the neurological disorder.
Men, for instance, develop Parkinson’s disease much more frequently than women — by a ratio of 2:1, according to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Likewise, age also plays a role: a majority of Parkinson’s disease patients are 60-years-old or older, and very rarely does Parkinson’s disease impact younger adults.
Research to date has shown that other important risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:
- Genetic predisposition: The mutation of a specific set of genes can increase one’s chance of developing Parkinson’s disease, though such gene mutations are especially rare.
- Environmental triggers: Environmental risk factors, such as exposure to certain toxins, chemicals, and substances can increase one’s chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.
While more research needs to be done, there is a strong correlation between exposure to environmental triggers and the development of Parkinson’s disease.
The Parkinson’s Foundation lists the following as environmental triggers for Parkinson’s disease:
- Occupation: Certain occupations, such as welding, farming, and mining have a higher incidence rate of Parkinson’s disease — much of which has to do with exposure to toxins while on the job.
- Exposure to Metals: Regular exposure to some metals, such as manganese, are associated with higher incidence rates of Parkinson’s disease.
- Paraquat and Herbicide Exposure: The herbicide known as paraquat has been linked to an irrefutable increase in risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
Herbicides like paraquat — sold under the brand names Gramoxone and Ortho Paraquat — have been shown to be especially dangerous to those who come into regular contact with it.
Paraquat: A Common Herbicide Linked to Parkinson’s Disease
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists paraquat as one of the most widely used herbicides on U.S. crops. Each year, nearly 11 million pounds of the herbicide are sprayed across a vast array of American crops.
Primarily used to kill off grass and weeds on commercial soybean, corn, and cotton farms (among others, including orchards), farm workers, agricultural laborers, and those living in close proximity to where paraquat is sprayed are at especially high risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
According to the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council, chronic exposure to paraquat can increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 200-600%.
Furthermore, a comprehensive review of the medical literature on paraquat shows that the rate of occurrence of Parkinson’s disease was 25% higher in individuals who were exposed to paraquat. The same study also indicates that the longer one’s exposure to paraquat, the higher their chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.
The Parkinson’s Foundation notes:
“A strong link has been shown between Parkinson’s disease and exposure to pesticides and herbicides. One herbicide that has been linked to Parkinson’s is paraquat, a widely used commercial herbicide in the U.S. that is banned in 32 countries, including the European Union and China.”
In an effort to eliminate exposure to paraquat, the Parkinson’s Foundation teamed up with the Unified Parkinson’s Advocacy Council to write multiple letters to the EPA asking them to ban paraquat. Their argument was based on the irrefutable scientific evidence connecting exposure to the herbicide and the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Rather than heeding the advice from these organizations, the EPA instead renewed the use of paraquat in the U.S. in 2020, and paraquat sales and usage have actually increased.
How to Get Involved This Parkinson’s Awareness Month
In addition to educating yourself on Parkinson’s disease, its risk factors, and its environmental triggers, there are a number of ways that you can get involved during the remainder of Parkinson’s Awareness Month.
The Parkinson’s Foundation suggests that you:
- Spread awareness: The Parkinson’s Foundation can only spread so much information on its own. The rest is up to us. Make it a goal this month to share information about Parkinson’s disease with your communities both in-person and on social media.
- Submit a proclamation: Petition your local mayor, elected official(s), or governor to declare the month of April — in 2021 and beyond — Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Once you’ve submitted your proclamation, be sure to follow up by phone or email to check if it was received. The more people rallied behind a cause, the larger the impact.
If you are looking for more ways to get involved, check out the Parkinson’s Foundation’s 2021 Awareness Month Toolkit, which includes information, suggested actions, and a host of other ways to demonstrate your support.