Disturbing Link Between Banned Pesticide, DDT, and Alzheimer’s

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerJanuary 29, 2014

A recent study from Rutgers University has found a link between the banned pesticide, DDT, and Alzheimer’s Disease. The study is also evidence that Alzheimer’s is not strictly genetic, but that an environment can play a crucial role in determining who is at risk for the disease. 

The Dangerous History of DDT

Not too long ago DDT was widely used throughout the United States. From the 1940s to the 1970s DDT was used in the U.S. to kill mosquitos that could spread malaria. The founder of DDT was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and the chemical was used throughout World War II to prevent malaria and typhus. Following the war, DDT was used in agriculture. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the chemical in 1972 after finding it was a carcinogen and was negatively affecting wildlife as it moved up the food chain.

Unfortunately, because it was so widely used, many Americans still have DDT in their blood and tissue. Also, DDT is still used in other countries which means it can be present in some imported meat, fish, and dairy products.

DDT Exposure Linked to Alzheimer’s

Scientists at Rutgers University worked with researchers at Emory University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center to determine the relationship between exposure to DDT and Alzheimer’s disease. The team looked at the levels of DDE, a byproduct of DDT, in healthy patients and compared them with DDE levels in patients with late-onset Alzheimer’s.  The group that had late-onset Alzheimer’s had DDE levels almost four times higher than the healthy group.

Environment As A Risk Factor

It is important to note that not all of the Alzheimer’s patients had high levels of DDE. The study shows us that Alzheimer’s is not only a genetic condition but that the environment can play a crucial role in the development of the disease. Researcher Jason Richardson cautioned that “Alzheimer’s is a complex disease, and there isn’t one single factor driving it.” He cited a colleague saying: “Genetics loads the gun. Environment pulls the trigger.”

The study could also mean that measuring DDE levels in the blood will be included in the screening and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers concluded that it “may also provide an avenue for a targeted treatment of individuals with high levels of DDE.”

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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