Toxic Chemicals Linked to Dementia: Follow the Evidence and Follow the Money

©Allison Y. Gibbons. PH.D

July 31, 2021

The results are now public. A definite link has been established between the use of the herbicide Paraquat (aka Gramoxone) and Parkinson’s Disease, which is second only to Alzheimer’s as the most well-known among the twelve or more types of dementia. Paraquat was first manufactured in 1962 and quickly became the most popular herbicide worldwide. A compilation of scientific studies recently released by the US National Institutes of Health and the Parkinson’s Institute found that data collected between 2011 and 2017 persuasively connected Paraquat to Parkinson’s. As a result, 32 countries have decided to ban the use of Paraquat.

But not so fast. Politics and money are always lurking in the shadows, so countries have allowed the major manufacturers and distributors of Paraquat to kick the can down the road. The export, import, and use of Paraquat will continue unabated until 2023.  Meanwhile, all countries are reporting an exponential rise in Dementia-type diseases including Parkinson’s, paradoxically accompanied by a zealous oversell of Paraquat in all its forms ostensibly to rake in the profits before 2023 rolls around. You should be aware that nearly all public green spaces in most countries across the globe are managed with applications of paraquat, as well as more than 100 food crops in farms worldwide. Such extensive use suggests that paraquat is always in the air and on the grass on which you might wish to take a walk.  The ubiquitous warning in parks and public grounds to "stay off the grass" takes on dire new meaning.

The first lawsuit citing Paraquat as cause of Parkinson’s in agricultural workers, was filed in the US in 2017. This year 2021 bears witness to the mushrooming of Paraquat-focused law firms, offering to represent affected individuals in an arrangement of no-win - no cost. Based on scientific evidence, the National Law Review has reiterated the legal strength of such claims against the multi-national manufacturers and distributors of paraquat, notably Syngenta and Chevron. Sizable monetary compensation packages await claimants in the US. Other countries are following suit. You can stake a claim – just google ‘Paraquat Law Firm’ – but only if you are an agricultural worker, registered landscaper, farm manager or member of a farming family and can prove that your job required you to use paraquat on a regular basis, and only if you have a definitive diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. 

Celebrity Status and Support for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

When it comes to Dementia, the 2 most recognized names are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  They were the first to be associated with high profile celebrities and as a result gained fast credibility compared to the other dementias. They attract the most dollars for research which further reinforces their higher prominence in the public consciousness. Case in point is the relentless work being done by Canadian/US actor Michael J. Fox of ‘Back-to-the Future’ fame who spearheads ongoing funding for Parkinson’s research because he himself has been diagnosed with the disease.  World-renowned boxer Muhammad Ali suffered from Parkinson’s in the later years of his life. US President Ronald Reagan, as well as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher battled with Alzheimer’s during their last 10 years of life. Such public disclosures have spurred sizeable donations, expensive drug trials, a spurt in pharmaceutical investments and the commitment of some governments to place it on their Public Health agenda to support research into causes and treatments.

Proof that Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment and Food Contribute to Dementia

Scientists have long studied and published convincing results on the role of toxic chemicals in our environment and in our food, with particular reference to the rise in Cancers, Kidney disease and Dementia. We now have a legally accepted, evidence-based link between toxic chemicals and Dementia with the direct connection between Parkinson’s and Paraquat.  Research has also long revealed an association between the use of Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, but while medical specialists have been able to pin down Parkinson’s, the same cannot be said of Alzheimer's. Evidence about the role of aluminum is based on the finding that a build-up of aluminum is present in the brains of expired patients.  But claims about aluminum as a toxic cause of Alzheimer’s cannot yet hold up in court for a few reasons. According to the medical protocols on dementia, a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s does not prove beyond a doubt that someone has Alzheimer’s; such a diagnosis is confirmed only by an autopsy.  By then it is too late for a patient to sue anyone for anything, or for family members to prove what killed their loved one.  Additionally, it is not possible to isolate a specific source of the aluminum that makes its way into your brain tissue (and your breast tissue as well). 

Aluminum is a substance that exists in our natural environment and used as raw material in daily items such as your pots and pans or restaurant cookware, and the aluminum foil that is everyone’s favorite material for wrapping food. Aluminum is in your deodorant or antiperspirant; and in baking powder which is a critical ingredient for baked goods and deep-fried foods. You have to make conscious choices to keep aluminum out of your system.  All this means is that there's no straight line that legally connects Aluminum to Alzheimer's even though science suggests it may well be a major player. On the other hand, if you or members of your family have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, an experienced Paraquat lawyer will accept your case with the assurance that it is backed up by science.  The plan is to be awarded a judgment on reimbursements for medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, and loss of  quality of life. Legal experts in countries other than the US are taking note.  More advocates are needed for the cause.

It is understandable that Paraquat’s legal claims so far have been confined to farmers, farming families, and other agricultural workers.  However, this approach leaves a vexing issue. Paraquat is the most widely used herbicide in large and small-scale farming as well as landscaping and home gardening.  Additionally, even if you are not the person directly administering paraquat, if you live or move about within spread of windblown or helicopter-blown spray, you are exposed to paraquat regularly. If you eat vegetables and fruits from anywhere except an isolated organic farm, the type that are not peeled (think berries, tomatoes, plums, green leafy vegetables) you are ingesting paraquat residue; paraquat is applied to more than 100 food crops in the field.

Though it is illegal in many countries to sell paraquat to home gardeners, that fact has not blocked access to anyone, since Paraquat is used as much as Roundup (aka glyphosate) the other common weed-killer popular among home gardeners and landscapers.  Roundup is currently facing its own stack of lawsuits since it has been linked to a spate of incurable cancers. Yet Paraquat and Roundup remain on the shelves of your regular neighborhood plant shop and agricultural supply store. If you are a regular gardener, you probably have some in your garage or sitting around your backyard. Few people will choose to pull up weeds by hand when they can access Paraquat or Roundup.

One of the ways that Paraquat escapes a true count of sales and distribution across the world is that it is marketed under many brand names.  It is ascribed the nature of a chameleon. Ban it under a known name and it shows up under another name.  The most popular brand is Gramoxone, which in semi-related news, cruelly accounts for 30% of suicide deaths around the world.  It is deadly in a single miniscule dose.  Yet there are 75 alternate names on record for paraquat (list is too long to include here) and if those aren’t enough, many other legal herbicides are marketed outside of this group that are not officially paraquat, but in fact contain paraquat as an ingredient listed under an obscure name. But paraquat by any other name is still Paraquat. 

Women Experience Parkinson’s Disease Differently From Men

Female farmers may find themselves on the wrong side of the Paraquat lawsuits. More men are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, while more women are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It is not that women are not at risk for Parkinson’s; but women experience the disease differently. In a circular pattern of logical fallacy, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s may not be assigned to female patients with symptoms,  simply because Parkinson’s is erroneously associated only with men. For all dementias, accurate diagnoses remain somewhat elusive within the world of general and internal medicine. Primary caregivers are overworked with treating regular health problems among their patients in crowded waiting rooms and clinics. Dementia diagnoses demand specific current knowledge, accuracy, and time that community health professionals don’t have for assessments, treatment and the regular monitoring needed by dementia patients. But you are in luck if you can afford consultations, get appointments, or have Health Insurance to cover continuing care by the medical professionals who have the requisite knowledge and skills - specialties within specialties such as: geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and geropyschologists who make the choice to focus on Dementia as a syndrome of several degenerative brain diseases and cognitive decline.

Here are some things we know for sure: dementia is not an inevitable part of aging even though it is associated with getting older; some people will get dementia as they age, and some people will not; dementia may turn up between the ages of 60 and 75, but some will be afflicted with early onset dementia starting younger than 60, while others will have late onset after age 75, and there are even some dementias which may show up younger than 50; medical science hasn’t yet found a cure for any of the dementias, but some treatments will slow down the rate of decline and help to manage symptoms; and we certainly know that dementia is associated with genetic markers as well as environmental factors.

What You Can Control in the Prevention of Dementia

You cannot control your genetics.  But you can control many factors that trigger your genetic predisposition to get dementia.  We are constantly exposed to environmental toxins – some beyond our control. We breathe them in, ingest them with food, and absorb them through our skin. Toxic substances gradually accumulate in the body and have devastating impact over time. Research tells us, ad nauseum, that we can alter the course of those degenerative events through carefully curated nutritional intake; frequent exercise that breaks a sweat;  uninterrupted sleep for six to nine hours; stress management techniques; and awareness and treatment of depression.  Regarding nutrition, research findings emphasize that flavonoids – found in the colored components of fruits and vegetables, contain protective factors, and that foods containing fiber help to sweep food waste out of the body taking ingested toxins with it. Breaking a sweat also helps to remove toxins from the body in a process that doesn’t overload the kidneys with too much toxified urine to process. It’s not by accident that paraquat is also directly associated with Kidney disease. 

The onus is on you to stay abreast of information on the toxic chemicals you bring home such as Paraquat and Roundup, plus a host of highly toxic household cleaners.  You can find, make and use more natural cleaning agents. You can seek other ways to manage weeds in your garden apart from using Paraquat or Roundup or their chemical siblings and cousins. If you hire landscapers, prevent them from applying these substances to your yard. Organic fruits and vegetables are expensive anywhere, but if you can, you should definitely grow your own, using non-toxic soil, while staying away from pesticides and herbicides. If you don’t have the space, time, knowledge, energy or the inclination to grow your own food, it is in your interest to source and select your food carefully and wash the fruits and vegetables that you bring home, in a thorough health-aware ritual as if your life depended on it.  In fact, a life without dementia depends on it.

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