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In a new report published in JAMA, pesticides have been linked to ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease). ALS, many readers will recall, is the fatal neurological disease which spawned the “Ice Bucket Challenge” Facebook event a few years back.

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Donald Trump participating in the ice bucket challenge.

“We are identifying these toxic, persistent, environmental pollutants in higher amounts in ALS patients compared to those who do not have ALS,” said Dr. Goutman.

The study, published May 9th in JAMA Neurology, was conducted between 2011 and 2014 and funded in part by the CDC. In this study, Dr. Stephen Goutman of University of Michigan’s ALS Clinic evaluated 156 patients with ALS and compared them to 128 without ALS.

stephen hawking pbs 150x150 - Pesticides linked to ALSThey found that 3 toxins in particular were associated with greater risk for developing ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the progressive condition which has affected famous people such as Stephen Hawkings, David Neven, Mao Zedong, Jon Stone (aka Cookie Monster and Big Bird creator), Charles Mingus and Lead Belly and Morrie Schwartz (subject of Tuesdays with Morrie) and of course Lou Gehrig.

What is ALS?

ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. “A” means no. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment – “No muscle nourishment,” according to the ALS Association. There is no cure and the condition leads to death.

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Symptoms of ALS

According to the Mayo Clinic, early signs and symptoms of ALS include:

  • Difficulty walking, tripping or difficulty doing your normal daily activities
  • Weakness in your leg, feet or ankles
  • Hand weakness or clumsiness
  • Slurring of speech or trouble swallowing
  • Muscle cramps and twitching in your arms, shoulders and tongue
  • Difficulty holding your head up or keeping a good posture

The disease frequently begins in your hands, feet or limbs, and then spreads to other parts of your body. As the disease advances, your muscles become progressively weaker. This weakness eventually affects chewing, swallowing, speaking and breathing.

Is this definite proof?

It is very important to emphasize that this study doesn’t prove pesticides cause ALS, but it does build on an association suggested in previous research, Goutman said. According to the Director of the ALS clinic at Mass General, Dr. Merit Cudkowicz, the new study “raises possibilities of the association of certain pesticides and ALS, but is far from certain.”

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Worker spraying strawberry fields with pesticide

Though both Dr. Goutman and Dr. Cudkowicz were careful to qualify the results as being far from certain, they both recommended avoiding pesticides, particularly the 3 found in the study and particularly if one has a family history of ALS. Scientist believe that diseases like these probably have both a genetic factor and an environmental trigger.

In addition to ALS, there is some evidence to suggest that Parkinsons also may be related to an environmental exposure.

What were the 3 pesticides specifically identified?

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Persistent exposure to these 3 pesticide increased risk of ALS in the JAMA study:

  • Cis-chlordane (pesticide) increased ALS risk nearly sixfold.
  • Pentachlorobenzene (used in the manufacture of fungicides) doubled the odds for ALS.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (flame retardant in furnishings and textiles) raised the risk by about 2.7 times.

If you have any questions about ALS or the above symptoms, see your primary care physician. Evolve Medical is also happy to see you. Same day scheduling on-line here or call 844-322-4222. Or email them at

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