May 11, 2023

Pesticide Exposure Increases the Risk of All Seizure Disorders, Especially Epilepsy

Article published by Beyond Pesticides 

A study published in NeuroToxicology finds occupational (work-related), chronic exposure to pesticides increases risk factors of epilepsy, a neurological disorder causing unprovoked, reoccurring seizures. Mounting evidence over the past years shows that chronic exposure to sublethal (low) levels of pesticides can cause neurotoxic effects or exacerbate preexisting chemical damage to the nervous system. Although the mechanism by which pesticides induce disease development remains unclear, this study suggests environmental pesticide exposure increases seizure risk through mechanisms at molecular or subcellular levels.

Approximately 3.4 million individuals in the U.S. live with epilepsy, and mortality from this disorder is rising nationwide. Over 300 environmental contaminants and their byproducts, including pesticides, are chemicals commonly present in human blood and urine samples and can increase neurotoxicity risk when crossing the brain barrier. Considering half of all epilepsy etiologies (causes) are of idiopathic (unknown) origins, studies like this highlight the importance of understanding how consistent chemical exposure can impact long-term health and disease prognosis. The study notes, “[The] approach to a real-world exposure scenario to pesticides in a large agriculture area over 17 years; […] can be linked to the novel approaches proposed for simulating real-life exposures, thus contributing to a better understanding of the real-life risk associated with long-term exposure to multiple pesticides.”

To determine work-related risk factors associated with epilepsy among farmers and pesticide applicators, researchers performed a case-control study on 19,704 individuals from 2000 to 2016 (17 years) to observe epilepsy cases. Researchers gathered data from Almería (South-Eastern Spain) hospital records and the Centre for Prevention of Occupational Risks. Of the 19,704 individuals, 5,091 have a record of epilepsy. The researchers attribute an increase in epilepsy risk among those working in chemical-intensive, enclosed (indoor) agriculture (high-yield greenhouse crops) compared to chemical-intensive, open-air (outdoor) agriculture (open-air crops). However, this study supports previous findings on the association between epilepsy and pesticide exposure in the general population. Epilepsy risk is greatest among individuals living in rural areas with high pesticide use (e.g., farming regions) and individuals without proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves and masks.