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Health & Wellness

Vital Signs: An Environmental Link To Alzheimer’s Disease?


A UT Southwestern Medical Center study may have uncovered a possible contributor to Alzheimer’s Disease: DDT. The U-S banned the pesticide more than 40 years ago, but a by-product of it called DDE showed up in blood samples of people with Alzheimer’s.

More research is needed, but in this week’s edition of Vital Signs, Dr. Dwight German, a Professor of Psychiatry at U-T Southwestern , says the discovery could prove beneficial.

Things To Know About DDT and DDE:

What Is DDT?

CDC factsheet on DDT says  dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane is an insecticide used in agriculture, and also has been used in the past for the treatment of lice.  The United States banned its use in 1972, but DDT is still in use outside the country for the control of mosquitoes that spread malaria. DDT and its related chemicals persist for a long time in the environment and in animal tissues.

How People Are Exposed to DDT

People are most likely to be exposed to DDT from foods, including meat, fish, and dairy products. DDT can be absorbed by eating, breathing, or touching products contaminated with DDT. In the body, DDT is converted into several breakdown products called metabolites, including the metabolite dichlorodiphenyldichloroethene (DDE). DDT and DDE are stored in the body’s fatty tissues. In pregnant women, DDT and DDE can be passed to the fetus. Both chemicals are found in breast milk, resulting in exposure to nursing infants.

How DDT Affects People’s Health

Human health effects from DDT at low environmental doses are unknown. Following exposure to high doses, human symptoms can include vomiting, tremors or shakiness, and seizures. Laboratory animal studies showed effects on the liver and reproduction. DDT is considered a possible human carcinogen.

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