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article imageWeedkillers now linked to depression among farmers

By Kathleen Blanchard     Jul 28, 2013 in Health
Insecticides used by farmers have been previously linked to higher risk of Parkinson’s disease. Now a new study links weedkillers to depression in a study of French farmers that could also mean health risks for the average gardener.
Marc Weisskopf, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study and colleagues surveyed 567 farmers who use pesticides, fungicides and insecticides to screen for rates of depression as part of the study on Parkinson’s disease.
The study took place among farmers in France whose average age was 37 to 78. The farmers were recruited for the study between 1998 and 2000.
The researchers were looking for any type of chemical exposure. The farmers were questioned about whether they had ever been treated for depression.
The investigators looked at receipts for purchases of weedkillers, old pesticide containers and calendars to find any association between depression and the use of pesticides, fungicides or herbicides.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), little is known about the health effect on humans of a large group of herbicidal agents known as substituted urea herbicides (SUHs) that are widely used and can linger in the environment for up to one-year.
One of the most popular weedkillers sold on the market is Monsanto's "Roundup" that is used to kill weeds across the US and worldwide. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, has recently been linked to Parkinson's disease, autism, depression, cancer and more, despite claims from the company that the product is safe, according to a study published in the journal Entropy this year.
The current finding, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, revealed a link between exposure to herbicides and higher rates of depression among the farmers. No link was found from exposure to fungicides and insecticides.
He explains earlier research focused on nerve toxic insecticides; in particular organophosphates of the type that killed 23 children in India earlier this month.
The finding showed 83 farmers had been treated for depression; of those, 36 had used pesticides.
Among the farmers without Parkinson’s disease, 57 had been treated for depression; 20 of those farmers had used herbicides.
There was also an association between risk of having depression and longer exposure to herbicides, either in hours or years, the researchers found.
When other known risk factors were taken into account including cigarette smoking and age, there was an almost 2.5 percent higher chance of depression tied to herbicide use.
"The health of the farmer is critical. If they can't work, they get depressed," said Cheryl Beseler, a researcher at Colorado State University, who was not involved in this study.
The finding could also have implications for the average home gardener.
Weisskopf said their study does not apply, though it would be valuable to understand the risks of exposure to weedkillers in non-farming as well as farming settings.
Beseler told Reuters Health, "I think people tend to not take (the risks of pesticides) seriously when they're gardeners.”
The study doesn’t prove herbicides do cause depression, but the researchers found an association.
Weisskopf said one of the reasons depression risk was not associated with insecticide and fungicide use might be because farmers are aware of the dangers and taking precautions.
It’s also possible the chemicals don’t cause depression.
He said in a press release, the result “…suggests we should not be ignoring herbicides just because they're targeting plants.”
He suggests farmers and gardeners alike should take precautions to protect their health when using weedkillers until more studies are done.
More about weedkillers, depression link, Farmers, Pesticides, Marc Weisskopf
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