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Lupus and other Autoimmune Diseases Linked to Insecticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, October 30, 2009) A recent study shows that women who use insecticides are at elevated risk for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The results of the yet unpublished study were presented on October 17, 2009 at the American College of Rheumatology annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

The study, which looked at more than 75,000 women, shows that those who spray insecticides at least six times per year have almost two and a half times the risk of developing lupus and rheumatoid arthritis versus those who do not use insecticides. The risk doubles if insecticides were used in the home for 20 years or more.

Hiring a gardener or commercial company to apply insecticides also resulted in a doubling of risk, but only if they were used long-term, says Christine G. Parks, PhD, an epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., one of the lead researchers who analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Observational Study.

“Our new results provide support for the idea that environmental factors may increase susceptibility or trigger the development of autoimmune diseases in some individuals,” said Dr. Parks. While the study does not confirm cause and effect, Dr. Parks added, “We need to start thinking about what chemicals or other factors related to insecticide use could explain these findings.”

Of the 76,861 postmenopausal, predominantly white women, ages 50 to 79, in the WHI study, 178 of them had rheumatoid arthritis and 27 had lupus. An additional eight women had both disorders. As part of the study, the women were asked a number of questions relating to farming and insecticide use. “Importantly, the relationships we observed were not explained by other factors that we considered, including farm history, age, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic factors such as education and occupation, smoking and other risk factors for disease,” Dr. Parks said.

“The findings are fairly compelling” because they show the greater and longer the exposure, the greater the risk,” said Darcy Majka, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern Univ\ersity Feinberg School of Medicine, another researcher who analyzed the WHI data.

According to Dr. Parks, studies show that up to three fourths of U.S. households reported using insecticides in either or both the home and garden, and 20% of the households had applied insecticides within the last month. “Insecticide exposure in the home can be quite persistent because [the chemicals] don’t break down in the home environment.”

Beyond Pesticides has reported about potential autoimmune effects because of pesticides. In Nevada in September 2009, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) officials said that its department was too busy to make sure they properly cleaned and closed a pesticide container site in Antelope Valley. Residents in the area have reported an unexpected number of rare cancers and immune diseases in the valley over the last decade and have long suspected contamination from the dump site for the outbreak.

With new information like this study showing correlations between pesticides and autoimmune diseases, advocages say it is critical to start and continue to use alternatives to harmful pesticides.

For more information please see our Lawns and Landscapes program page and our Alternatives factsheets page.

Source: WebMD Health News


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