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What Are The Environmental Causes Of Parkinson Disease

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Environmental and genetic causes of Parkinson’s disease | Giselle Petzinger

Although still somewhat controversial, the Braak hypothesis presents a unique hypothetical framework of PD development that may allow us to better conceptualize steps of PD prodromal development and environmental contributions. According to this hypothesis, PD Lewy pathology develops in six sequential stages, first in the olfactory bulb or enteric nerves , years if not decades, before spreading to the substantia nigra where dopaminergic neuron death occurs . In support of this hypothesis, recent clinical and epidemiological studies have clearly documented a wide range of nonmotor symptoms in PD patients, and some symptoms such as olfactory impairment , REM sleep behavior disorder , and constipation may have developed years, if not decades, prior to PD clinical diagnosis. While there are still substantial challenges to adequately define prodromal PD, by using these symptoms as noninvasive intermediate phenotypes, we may be able to bring new insights into this black-box of PD prodromal development by identifying factors that initiate PD pathogenesis, lead to these intermediate phenotypes, or modify progression to clinical PD . This framework may fundamentally improve understanding of PD prodromal development and contributions from environmental factors.

Parkinson Causes: Do Genetics Or Environmental Toxins Lead To Parkinson

While Parkinson causes are diverse…

Both genetic and environmental causes of Parkinsons Disease are well recognized in the medical literature.

1) Environmental toxins lead to Parkinsons:

Studies, both of large groups of people and experimental studies show that both pesticides and metal toxicity are Parkinson causes.

  • These toxins cause “a-Syn aggregation” which leads to neuro-degenerative diseases including Parkinsons.

2) Genomic defects are among Parkinson Disease causes:

  • Yes, family history, or genetics can be a player, but few people get Parkinsons directly from genetic mutation. A number of factors usually combine to trigger the disease.

Which Parkinson Disease Causes Might Affect You?

When Parkinson causes converge — either genomic, or environmental factors or both, these lead to abnormalities in the mitochondria of the cells and there is more “oxidative stress.”

  • Toxicity causes inflammation and oxidative stress and eventually the balance of health tips toward disease.

While not a Parkinson cure, we can protect better against toxins, and lower inflammation and oxidative stress.

The Five Environmental Causes Of Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons disease is a brain disorder that develops and becomes worse over time. The typical symptoms of the disease include tremor, stiffness, slowness of movement, and balance problems. These symptoms develop when the brain lost its ability to produce a sufficient amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlled body movement.

Researchers have identified a variety of environmental factors that are linked to Parkinsons disease. Some of these factors may directly cause the disease symptoms, others may increase the risk of developing it.

Here are the 5 main environmental factors that are linked to Parkinsons disease development.

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Parkinson’s Disease: Evidence For Environmental Risk Factors

Corresponding Author

Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA

Correspondence to:

Corresponding Author

Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA

Correspondence to:

Relevant conflicts of interest/financial disclosures:: Dr. Kieburtz was a paid consultant to the defendants in the welding rod litigation.

Full financial disclosures and author roles may be found in the online version of this article.

Theories About What Causes Parkinsons

The search for environmental causes of Parkinson

The cause of Parkinsons disease is still unknown, although there is some evidence for the role of genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of both. It is also possible that there may be more than one cause of the disease. Scientists generally believe that both genetics and environment interact to cause Parkinsons disease in most people who have it.

Currently, there is an enormous amount of research directed at producing more answers about what causes Parkinsons disease and how it might be prevented or cured. When physicians diagnose Parkinsons, they often describe it as idiopathic . This simply means that the cause of the disease is not known.

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How You Lose Dopamine Production

Damaged nerve cells can be what results in a decreased ability of the brain to create dopamine. Generally, some kind of degradation of the brain cells will reduce dopamine production.

There is some genetic link to parkinsons disease. For example, specific genetic mutations can impact the dopamine production. Far more common is that exposure to something in the environment can impact the brain.

Causes Of Parkinsons Disease

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced by nerve cells in the substantia nigra , coordinates muscle movement.23 When small clusters of dopamine-producing cells die, at least half of them, body movements become visibly impaired.4 This is how PD is caused at the molecular level. What triggers this kind of nerve degeneration is still being extensively researched.

So, what we must understand is that no one really knows the cause for Parkinsons yet. Scientists have made good progress toward finding out what it can be, but right now they are stuck in a pool of risk factors and contributing factors rather than a direct cause.

Most cases of PD are due to a combination of the following factors:

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What Is Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons disease is a motor system disorder resulting from the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.1 PD mostly affects people over 60 years of age, but in rare cases can start as early as your 20s. The rate at which it progresses is different for different people, and early symptoms are difficult to catch.

PD affects your movements in a way that you cannot control it. It starts out with tremors, stiffness, and slow movements and gradually progresses into difficulty swallowing, speaking, sleeping, and even thinking. The most unfortunate part is that daily activities that youve been doing for years become not so doable, affecting relationships and your basic quality of life.

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Stem cells are cells that have the ability to differentiate into any other cell type. They can also divide and renew themselves, meaning they can be used for regenerative purposes. It has been found stem cells are of particular importance in cases of Parkinsons disease because these stem cells produce dopamine. This is important because Parkinsons patients suffer from a lack of dopamine production which leads to tremors, speech problems, and more! Additionally Stem cells are the bodys true multi-potentiality cells to treat diseases like diabetes, heart problems and now Parkinsons treatment is possible through stem cell therapy. Stem Cells have developed rapidly and provided a new ray of hope to many patients all over the world suffering from Parkinsons disease.

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Want To Learn More About The Latest Research In Parkinsons Disease Ask Your Questions In Our Research Forum

Environmental factors may trigger Parkinsons or modify its progression during the prodromal stage, in which early symptoms or signs are present, but clinical diagnosis is not yet possible. Among the reported factors, smoking, coffee, exercise, plasma urate, and use of ibuprofen have been linked to a lower risk of Parkinsons, while pesticide exposure and traumatic brain injury have been associated with a greater risk.

Apart from two pesticides known as rotenone and paraquat, researchers have had difficulties in providing evidence that other risk factors can cause the disease. Reverse causation meaning that Parkinsons changes lifestyle and behavior before a clinical diagnosis rather than the other way around has been proposed as an explanation for the link between these environmental triggers and Parkinsons in its early stages.

This prodromal stage is of major interest for prevention efforts, the researchers said in the release, adding that the discovery of Lewy bodies protein aggregates mainly composed of alpha-synuclein that are characteristic of Parkinsons in the olfactory pathway and the digestive tract made targeting factors that enter the body via the nose or gut even more important.

We are at an exciting moment to unveil environmental contributions to development and progression by taking a life-course approach, and utilizing novel tools to assess environmental exposures, the researchers said.

Other Relevant Environmental Exposures

Although not the focus of this article, the Braak hypothesis also provides strong rationales to systematically examine several other environmental exposures that have not been well studied in the context of PD development such as organic solvents , high temperature cooked meats and heterocyclic amines , respiratory or GI infections and inflammation , and the use of antibiotics and antiviral therapies .

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Other Causes Of Parkinsonism

“Parkinsonism” is the umbrella term used to describe the symptoms of tremors, muscle rigidity and slowness of movement.

Parkinson’s disease is the most common type of parkinsonism, but there are also some rarer types where a specific cause can be identified.

These include parkinsonism caused by:

  • medication where symptoms develop after taking certain medications, such as some types of antipsychotic medication, and usually improve once the medication is stopped
  • other progressive brain conditions such as progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple systems atrophy and corticobasal degeneration
  • cerebrovascular disease where a series of small strokes cause several parts of the brain to die

You can read more about parkinsonism on the Parkinson’s UK website.

Page last reviewed: 30 April 2019 Next review due: 30 April 2022

What Are The Major Challenges In Searching For Environmental Causes Of Pd


The fact that late-onset sporadic PD takes decades to develop and the lack of understanding of this prolonged prodromal phase present a major challenge to understand environmental contributions to PD. In this disease development paradigm, causative exposures that initiate PD pathological process may have to occur and be documented decades before disease clinical diagnosis, which is often infeasible in epidemiological studies. Further, once neurodegeneration is initiated, many environmental and genetic factors may come into play to modify PD progression during the decades of prodromal disease development. As a consequence, even the most robust epidemiological findings, including those from longitudinal cohorts, are subject to alternative explanations. For instance, smokers have a robust and substantially lower risk for PD than non-smokers in all types of epidemiologic studies . While a causal interpretation that cigarette smoking reduces PD risk is appealing, alternative hypotheses such as reverse causation and confounding by personality and other unknown risk factors are equally possible . Similar analogies can be easily extended to most, if not all, of the presumed protective modifiable risk factors afore-mentioned.

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What Do We Know Now About Environmental Factors And Pd

In the past two decades, scientists have identified over a dozen environmental factors associated with the risk of developing PD, and for a majority, findings are reasonably consistent across studies . Examples include inverse associations with smoking , coffee drinking , vigorous exercise , ibuprofen use , and plasma urate , as well as positive associations with overall pesticide exposure , use of specific pesticides , and traumatic brain injury . For most of these associations, plausible biological hypotheses have been proposed. However, causal inference for these epidemiological findings has been very difficult. Apart from limited and often inconsistent experimental data, for most of these epidemiological observations, reverse causation is a viable potential explanation – that PD development prior to clinical diagnosis changes lifestyle and behavior rather than the other way around. Possible exceptions are the use of certain pesticides. For example, epidemiological findings on rotenone and paraquat are supported by strong experimental evidence, so much so that these chemicals are being used to generate rodent models for PD therapeutic research . Even for pesticides, there are many important questions unanswered. Therefore, despite its importance and a reasonable accumulation of literature, our understanding of environmental contributions to PD is still in its infancy.

Environmental Risk Factors For Parkinsons

When we talk about the environment, we mean the world around us, and the pathogens , toxic chemicals, and heavy metals that occupy it.

The idea that the environment could play a role in Parkinsons first arose from an unusual medical case in the early 1980s. A group of heroin users in California took drugs from a batch contaminated with a substance called MPTP. Almost overnight, they experienced a type of parkinsonism that could be treated with L-dopa. The case hit the headlines, and sparked an interest in how chemicals and other environmental exposures could play a role in Parkinsons.

Over the years, several more environmental factors have been suggested to influence the risk of developing Parkinsons. While some associations remain unproven, other factors have repeatedly been found to either increase or decrease risk.

1. Pesticide use

Over the years, studies have linked Parkinsons with rural living, farming, and well-water consumption. The common denominator in these studies is thought to be exposure to certain pesticides, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides.

2. Other chemicals



One study looking in welders in the US reported that exposure to manganese, found in welding fumes, increased the risk of developing manganism. And recent research suggests that this condition is caused by manganese triggering the misfolding of a protein in the brain cells, causing them to die.

3. Heavy metal exposure

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Environmental Factors In Parkinsons Disease

Here are environmental factors that may play a role in the development of Parkinsons disease:

Although environmental exposure to these and other toxins is of continued research interest, its hard to determine if any one substance is a culprit. Most often, individual cases of Parkinsons disease result from a complex interplay between genetics and environmental and other factors.

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Parkinson’s Disease Etiology | Environmental factors | Genetic factors |

Center for Health + Technology and Department of Neurology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA.

Address correspondence to: Karl Kieburtz, 265 Crittenden Boulevard, CU 420694, Rochester, New York 14642, USA. Phone: 585.275.8911 Email: .

Find articles byKieburtz, |PubMed |

Center for Health + Technology and Department of Neurology, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York, USA.

Address correspondence to: Karl Kieburtz, 265 Crittenden Boulevard, CU 420694, Rochester, New York 14642, USA. Phone: 585.275.8911 Email: .

J Clin Invest.

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What Raises Someone’s Risk For Parkinson’s

It’s a complex picture, but you may be more likely to get Parkinson’s based on:

Age. Since it mostly affects people 60 and older, your risk goes up as the years go by.

Family history. If your parent, brother, or sister has it, you’re a little more likely to get it.

Job. Some types of work, like farming or factory jobs, can cause you to have contact with chemicals linked to Parkinson’s.

Race. It shows up more often in white people than other groups.

Serious head injury. If you hit your head hard enough to lose consciousness or forget things as a result of it, you may be more likely to get Parkinson’s later in life.

Gender. Men get it more than women. Doctors aren’t sure why.

Where you live. People in rural areas seem to get it more often, which may be tied to chemicals used in farming.

Environmental Causes Of Parkinsons Disease

Parkinsons Disease causes are classified as environmental causes due to the fact that they occur through exposure to certain drugs which has been proven in scientific studies.

The most common sign of parkinsonism is a resting tremor, which causes shaking when the individual assumes or is forced into certain positions.

Other less frequent symptoms are impaired movement and balance problems due to changes in muscle stiffness, slow movements, rigidity, sleep disturbances, mood changes, and difficulty speaking or swallowing.

Symptoms worsen with time as the disease progresses to its final stages where it causes an inability to walk, talk, swallow properly, stay awake for a long period of time.

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Is Parkinsons Disease Hereditary

Hereditary diseases are passed from parents to their children, but cases of familial Parkinsons disease are very rare . The vast majority of Parkinsons cases are not transmissible.

Having Parkinsons disease does not affect your childrens risk of developing the disease. Similarly, your risk is not increased if your brother or sister has the disease. However, your risk may be increased if more than one person in your family has the disease.

Exposure to certain environmental factors or toxins may contribute to the development of Parkinsons disease.

The main environmental factors involved in Parkinsons disease are:

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Schematic presentation of neuronal death in Parkinson

Researchers are rapidly coming to the viewpoint that a large number of Parkinsons cases are tied to toxins. These researchers are even reaching conclusions that environment outranks genetics as a cause of Parkinsons.

One 2020 book discussed an exhaustive study of 17,000 twin brothers to pinpoint the effects that environment could play. The researchers found that people exposed to certain environmental factors were more than twice as likely to develop Parkinsons.

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Common Symptoms Of Parkinsons Disease

Here are some of the early signs and symptoms of Parkinsons disease that you need to be on the lookout for in deciding to see a healthcare professional who can provide medical advice.

  • Rigid muscles
  • Lack of ability to write
  • Slowed movement
  • Low blood pressure

If you notice these, or other symptoms involving the nervous system, it is time to see a doctor. If you experience a sudden drop in the bodys ability to execute any of these tasks or control movements, it is a sign that something is wrong. Doctors may be able to give medications or other treatments that could improve symptoms.


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