Milk. It does the body good, right? Not always. Dairy is constantly under health scrutiny anymore and this month’s study into a pesticide found to have been used in milk decades ago is reviving that scrutiny. The pesticide, heeptachlor epoxide, was used in the 1980’s. It’s first used on pineapples. It made its way into the milk supply when cows began eating remnants of pineapples in Hawaii.
The study showed that non-smokers who drank more than two cups of milk per day were significantly more likely to develop Parkinson’s. The study originally was supposed to monitor the effects of aging, hence the average age of each participant was 54.
For the study, 449 Japanese-American men with an average age of 54 who participated in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study were followed for more than 30 years and until death, after which autopsies were performed. Tests looked at whether participants had lost brain cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain, which occurs in Parkinson’s disease and can start decades before any symptoms begin. Researchers also measured in 116 brains the amount of residue of a pesticide called heptachlor epoxide. The pesticide was found at very high levels in the milk supply in the early 1980s in Hawaii, where it was used in the pineapple industry. It was used to kill insects and was removed from use in the US around that time. The pesticide may also be found in well water.
The study found that nonsmokers who drank more than two cups of milk per day had 40 percent fewer brain cells in that area of the brain than people who drank less than two cups of milk per day. For those who were smokers at any point, there was no association between milk intake and loss of brain cells. Previous studies have shown that people who smoke have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
This isn’t dairy’s first run in with being linked to Parkinson’s. Here’s a study from 2007 that cited similar findings.
In this large observational study, we found that higher dairy consumption was associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. The association was stronger in men and was mostly explained by milk consumption.
What’s further interesting is that the pesticide link isn’t full proof; in other words, the milk itself isn’t ruled out as the actual cause. The researchers were quick to point out that the study’s results could have been based on “chance.” And that the milk was never tested for the pesticide in question. In any case, heeptachlor epoxide isn’t used as a pesticide anymore.
Parkinson’s affects roughly 1 million people in the states and it has no cure.