Parkinson’s Disease is Rooted in Environmental Pollution

In taking a class in Functional Medicine this fall, I was stunned to discover the following:

[Tweet “Parkinson’s Disease is believed to be a disease of predominantly environmental origin.”] Twin studies have demonstrated that environmental factors are the most important cause for Parkinson’s disease (Wirdefeldt et al., 2008). Pesticide and heavy metal exposure are commonly cited antecedents and increased risk is seen in those exposed via occupation or simply rural living and consumption of well water (Willis, Sterling, & Racette, 2010). Park, et al. (2006) reported low, yet consistent exposure to inhaled manganese, a common occurrence in welding occupations, for as little as two years doubled the risk of neurological impairment.

Pesticide exposure is another, perhaps more prevalent source of exposure in Parkinsonism etiology. Rotenone and paraquat are two such pesticides that have been positively associated with the disease due to their ability to cause mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress (Tanner, et al., 2011). These can be purchased at your local home and garden center and may be used by your neighbors or even your local Parks and Rec department on greenways, roadsides, and in public parks to keep weeds at bay.

In married couples where both individuals became diseased with Parkinson’s, non-occupational exposure was most commonly noted. Multi-decade residential pesticide use and living within 5 miles of a metal manufacturing/emitting factory was reported in 77.8% of couples analyzed by Willis, Sterling, and Racette (2010). This study was particularly compelling, as it involved cases where one person came down with Parkinson’s and their spouse also fell ill with the same disease, usually within a decade.

What can you do?

[Tweet “Be wary of the pesticides you and your neighbor use.”] While the research I uncovered named two of them, many pesticides work because they destroy an insect’s neurological system. It’s foolish and short-sighted to think we are immune from that, even at regular low doses. Seek alternative deterrents that are non-toxic to control weeds and pests.

[Tweet “Filter your water to reduce pesticide exposure.”] This is especially important if you live in a rural area and use well water. I do not know if city filtration systems are effective either.

Also talk to your city to see what they use to keep public green spaces pretty. Our dogs and our children are very close to the very plants and grasses that may be treated and are especially sensitive to pollutants given their smaller size.


Tanner C.M., Kamel F., Ross G.W., Hoppin J.A., Goldman S.M., Korell M., Marras C., Bhudhikanok G.S., Kasten M., Chade A.R., Comyns K., Richards M.B., Meng C., Priestley B., Fernandez H.H., Cambi F., Umbach D.M., Blair A., Sandler D.P., Langston J.W. (2011). Rotenone, paraquat, and Parkinson’s disease. Environmental Health Perspectives 119(6), 866-872.

Wirdefeldt, K., Gatz, M., Bakaysa, S.L., Fiske, A., Flensburg, M., Petzinger, G.M., Widner, H., Lew, M.F., Welsh, M., and Pedersen, N.L. (2008). Complete ascertainment of Parkinson disease in the Swedish Twin Registry. Neurobiology of Aging, 29(12), 1765–1773.

doi:  10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.04.009

Park R.M., Bowler R.M., Eggerth D.E., Diamond E., Spencer K.J., Smith D., et al. (2006). Issues in neurological risk assessment for occupational exposures: the Bay Bridge welders. Neurotoxicology, 27(3), 373–84.

Willis, A.W., Sterling, C., and Racette, B.A. (2009). Conjugal Parkinsonism and Parkinson Disease: A Case Series with Environmental Risk Factor Analysis. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 16(3), 163–166.

doi:  10.1016/j.parkreldis.2009.09.002

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *