A new study found that certain pesticides and fungicides cause neurodegeneration in brain cells similar to the effects of autism and Alzheimer’s – findings that suggest a link between the use of these chemicals and the skyrocketing rise in autism rates.
The report, published by the journal Nature Communications, showed that several commonly used fungicides and pesticides triggered changes in gene expressions in the brains of rats – changes that affect the function of neurons in a way that resembles the impairment in brain cells of humans with autism and Alzheimer’s.
The research team used RNA sequencing to test around 300 chemicals to see if any of them triggered the gene expressions associated with autism. They found six groups of chemicals which produced the neurodegenerative effects, and of particular interest was a class of fungicides called strobilurins.
From a press release accompanying the report’s publication:
[Mark Zylka, PhD], a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center, and his group found that these chemicals reduced the expression of genes involved in synaptic transmission – the connections important for communication between neurons. If these genes are not expressed properly, then our brains cannot function normally. Also, these chemicals caused an elevated expression of genes associated with inflammation in the nervous system. This so-called neuroinflammation is commonly seen in autism and neurodegenerative conditions.
The researchers also found that these chemicals stimulated the production of free radicals – particles that can damage the basic building blocks of cells and that have been implicated in a number of brain diseases.
The smoking gun
One of the most significant findings of this new research is the proof of the pronounced neurodegenerative effects of strobilurins – the use of this class of fungicides coincides exactly with the increase of autism rates in recent years.
Strobilurins were first used in the U.S. in the late 1990s – just before the giant leap in autism rates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 68 children now develop autism, compared to 1 in 150 in the year 2000.
Although a direct link between strobilurins (and other chemicals tested by the team) and human autism has yet to be proven, the results of the study clearly indicate that more research is needed immediately.
Zylka, who headed the study, said:
Virtually nothing is known about how these chemicals impact the developing or adult brain. Yet these chemicals are being used at increasing levels on many of the foods we eat.
The team found high concentrations of the strobilurin-class fungicides in numerous foods, including lettuce, spinach, cilantro and other leafy greens. These fungicides are also commonly used on tomatoes and are becoming more widely used with other foods.
A “wake-up call”
Other scientists recognize the importance of the study and support the call for further research. As reported by Inquistr.com, Dr. Jeannie T. Lee, professor of genetics at Harvard said:
The work is timely and has wide-ranging implications not only for diseases like autism, Parkinson’s and cancer, but also for the health of future generations. I suspect that a number of these chemicals will turn out to have effects on transgenerational inheritance.
Researchers are beginning to uncover more and more evidence of the dangers associated with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. The increasing use of herbicides containing the carcinogenic ingredient glyphosate, for example, is – or should be – of great concern.
These chemicals affect the environment as well as people. They kill wildlife and poison the soil, air and water. More research will help, but ultimately the solution lies in recognizing the importance of natural, organic farming methods and weaning ourselves from chemical-based agriculture – before we cause any more damage to our present and future generations.