Valley researchers find link between pollution and Parkinson’s disease
Nov 13, 2023, 6:43 AM | Updated: 11:34 am
(Barrow Neurological Institute Photo)
PHOENIX — A recent national study from Valley-based Barrow Neurological Institute found that people living in areas with median levels of air pollution have a higher risk for developing Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressing disorder that affects the body’s nervous system. Tremors are a common initial symptom, but it can also cause stiffness and restricted movement initially. It is not curable but can be treated with medication.
The study was led by Brittany Krzyzanowski, a researcher at Barrow. She explains more about what they were exactly looking for.
“First, we wanted to identify the Parkinson’s disease hotspots in the nation and then we also wanted to test the association between air pollution and Parkinson’s disease risk,” Krzyzanowski said.
The study was inspired by previous research from the lab that indicated there were higher rates of the disease in the Midwest U.S.
“What we found is that the Parkinson’s disease hotspots were primarily located in the south-east portion of the U.S. This is an area that has some of the highest levels of air-pollution in the nation,” Krzyzanowski explains.
She and other researchers found that areas with median levels of air pollution are at a 56% increased risk of Parkinson’s disease compared to people living in areas with the lowest pollution.
Barrow reported this is the first time a nationwide link has been established between Parkinson’s disease and air pollution. In Phoenix, there’s some good and bad news that comes out of this study, according to a press release.
The good news is on average, general risk for Parkinson’s disease is 19% lower in the city of Phoenix compared to the rest of the nation.
The bad news is that there’s still a lot of variation in the Valley when it comes to how much pollutants specific neighborhoods are exposed to.
While other cities may have more pollution, Phoenix’s air quality is still characterized by pollutants from heavy traffic on Valley streets and highways.
“When you move from one neighborhood that has low air pollution to another neighborhood that has high air pollution…This seems to have a more meaningful impact on your risk for Parkinson’s disease,” Krzyzanowski said.
The study relied on neighborhood-specific data, and she said that shows those variations even if the overall region has better-than-average air quality.
There are apps available to track air pollution, and in Maricopa County that can also be done online.
“So if you’re worried about your exposure to air pollution, and maybe you’re part of a vulnerable communities. You can find ways to mitigate your exposure to air pollution by being visualing of air quality alerts in your area. And and you know, limiting your time outdoors when it’s advised,” she said.
Krzyzanowski believes this information shows the need for more research into the link between Parkinson’s disease and air pollution, even in those areas that don’t have “bad” levels of pollution.