Rutgers Researchers Link DDT to Alzheimer’s Disease

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DDT Being Sprayed in 1958

DDT Being Sprayed in 1958

We’ve known the pesticide DDT is harmful since it was banned decades ago, but researchers at Rutgers University may have found a new way the chemical is still affecting us. Their study, published yesterday in JAMA Neurology, suggests DDT may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study focused on levels of the chemical DDE, which is a byproduct of the pesticide DDT. Despite DDT being banned in the 70’s, DDE still shows up in over three-fourths of blood samples monitored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers compared the levels of DDE in the blood of healthy patients compared with those diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s. The levels of DDE were nearly four times higher in the Alzheimer’s disease group compared to the healthy patients. But, not every Alzheimer’s patient in the study showed these higher levels.

“Alzheimer’s is a complex disease and there isn’t one single factor driving it,” explained the author of the study, Jason Richardson from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

There has been a push to locate genetic defects that could be responsible for this form of dementia, but the Rutgers findings highlight that other factors likely play a role. As he puts it: “Genetics loads the gun. Environment pulls the trigger.”

The findings suggest it may be possible to one day screen for DDE levels to aid in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, but it may not open up avenues for treatment. Richardson cautioned that reducing the level of DDE may not lead to improvement. “It may be that the initial damage caused by the chemical is permanent,” he said.

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