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What is the Link Between Environmental Pollution and ALS?

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS is a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects the brain and spinal cord. ALS affects the upper motor neurons in the brain and the lower motor neurons in the spinal cord. As the condition progresses the patient starts experiencing speech and swallowing difficulties and ultimately has respiratory failure finally succumbing to the illness. As of now there is no cure for ALS. As of this year, there are more than 30,000 people with this disease and 5000 people are diagnosed every year in the United States alone.[1,2,3]

Studies are still going on as to identify the exact cause of ALS but researchers have come up with certain risk factors that make a person vulnerable to this dreaded disease. One study has suggested that mercury found in fish and other seafood is a potential risk factor for ALS, in fact doubles the risk for getting this disease. Similarly, pesticides like DDT also increase the risk of a person developing ALS.[1,2,3]

According to a latest study, researchers have found out that chronic exposure to pollutants in the environment can not only increase the risk of developing ALS but also makes it more aggressive affecting the mortality rate. Before this, air pollution was only linked to cardiovascular and respiratory illness risks.[1,2,3]

Based on animal studies, researchers have come up with a theory that minute airborne particles may cross the blood brain barrier causing oxidative stress, inflammation, and other abnormalities which all are contributors towards development of ALS in a person.[1,2,3] The article below highlights the potential link between Environmental Pollution and ALS.

What Is The Link Between Environmental Pollution and ALS?

What Is The Link Between Environmental Pollution and ALS?

In a study done in 2016, researchers found increased levels of pesticides in people who had known diagnosis of ALS. To investigate further another study was conducted in which 167 people with ALS were selected and tested for various air pollutants in their blood. The researchers found out that participants’ who had highest concentrations of air pollutants had much less chance of survival than participants who had low levels of pollutants.[3]

Researchers believe that these findings raise the concern that not only these factors increased the likelihood of a person getting ALS but it also made the disease more progressive decreasing the survival rate significantly. They mention that Michigan records one of the highest incidences of people being diagnosed with ALS and they attribute this to the state being both industrial and agricultural hub in the United States.[3]

This means that wide variety of pesticides are used for agricultural purposes along with other chemicals which mix with the water and soil and remain there for decades making it toxic. Polychlorinated biphenyl or PCB is a chemical that is used in a wide variety of products like electrical capacitors, refrigerators, and television sets. This chemical has been banned for use in 1979 itself due to its toxicity and it being a health hazard.[3]

However, since this chemical takes decades to degrade it is quite common for it to get mixed with the water in lakes and rivers and reach homes of people. Thus almost everyone at one point or the other gets exposed to such chemicals. Once inside the body, they start to accumulate and get into the fat and mix with the blood. It may not amount to much harm in an otherwise healthy person. However, for people with known ALS it is definitely detrimental and high concentrations of such pollutants can affect the overall prognosis.[3]

With the ever increasing pollution, people are getting exposed to more and more novel pollutants on a daily basis. However, how this will affect the health of a person is still being studied. The researchers believe that once they identify the effects of these toxins on the various organs of the body including the brain and the motor neurons then they may look at the prospect of developing drugs to counter these toxins. What the researchers do believe is that environmental pollution is a health hazard and should be addressed in the best way possible.[3]

In conclusion, a clear link has been established between environmental pollution and risk of ALS. In fact, some studies have shown that environmental pollution not only increases the risk of ALS but also speeds up the disease and makes it more aggressive in people who already have it. Additionally, pesticides used in agriculture especially DDT has been shown to increase the risk of ALS in people.[1,2,3]

Even though such chemicals have been banned by the US government, since these chemicals takes decades to degrade it is quite easy for them to get mixed with soil and lake or river waters and get into the homes of people thereby exposing them. The researchers therefore conclude that environmental pollution is a significant health hazard and extremely dangerous to people who have neurodegenerative condition like ALS and should be addressed in the best way possible.[1,2,3]


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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 9, 2022

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