The study, published in Nature, suggests that a specific herbicide, propyzamide, may increase inflammation in the large and small intestines and increase the risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) refers to several long-term conditions that involve inflammation of the digestive tract, or gut. The disease rates have spiked in the last decade, and new research indicates a common herbicide may be playing a role. Propyzamide is commonly used in agriculture to kill weeds.
“Our research provides a new method/platform to understand how chemicals in the environment, to which we are exposed on a daily basis, could promote the development of inflammatory disorders,” says corresponding author Francisco Quintana, Ph.D., an investigator in the Brigham’s Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases. “[Inflammatory diseases] are an important public health problem, as those diseases are increasing worldwide.”
Quintana believes the new study provides a clue that may help explain why.
Insights into the increased IBD rates, according to experts, are provided by the current study. Researchers used ToxCast, a database maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which contains biochemical information on consumer, industrial, and agricultural goods, as well as IBD genetics databases to carry out the investigation.
The researchers then discovered a number of compounds that potentially have an impact on the inflammatory pathways and tested the chemicals using a novel zebrafish IBD model. They wanted to know if the compounds under test would reduce, aggravate, or have no effect on intestinal inflammation.
Eleven of the top 20 compounds that potentially affect inflammatory pathways were identified by the researchers as being utilised in agriculture. Scientists then whittled down their list to these 20 substances. They focused on propyzamide, a weed killer frequently applied to food and vegetable crops as well as athletic areas.
Quintana claims that the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which is contested by additional studies, is involved in immunological control, intestinal homeostasis, and the suppression of inflammation.
Dele Ogunseitan, Ph.D., MPH was not involved with the study but isn’t shocked by the results.“Scientists are beginning to understand the wide range of environmental triggers, and it is not surprising that exposures to [herbicides], which are made to be toxic to living things, are among the most common risk factors in terms of exposures,” Ogunseitan says.
However, he advises that the study is only one piece of the puzzle and that additional research will be difficult to carry out but is still important.
According to Ogunseitan, the research methodologies can only show the first link between exposure to propyzamide and inflammatory bowel disease. It is challenging to provide causality with absolute certainty.
What would the results of more telling studies resemble? According to Ogunseitan, the following, more conclusive step would be to demonstrate that the majority of those who have IBD have also been exposed to the herbicide. He says he would not be surprised if further research showed that many people exposed to the herbicide do not acquire IBD and many people with IBD have never been exposed to the herbicide, as there are undoubtedly many other risk factors associated with IBD. So there’s no reason to worry that if you’ve been exposed to propyzamide, you’ll definitely develop inflammatory bowel disease. At the individual, policymaker, and public health levels, awareness is crucial.
The focus of the investigation is IBD. However, as Ogunseitan noted, there might be additional factors. The CDC speculates that genetics and a compromised immune system may play a role even if the precise reason is unknown.
The CDC states that there are two main forms of IBD. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s illness. While Ulcerative Colitis affects the lining of the deepest layer of the colon, Crohn’s disease can affect other layers of the GI tract. And one healthcare professional says it’s important to distinguish IBD, discussed in this study, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to prevent misinformation.
“IBS can be triggered by low-level food allergies and disruptions in our normal gut bacterial flora and doesn’t involve the inflammatory pathway connected with IBD,” says Claire Crunk, WHNP and Founder/CEO Trace Femcare, Inc. “IBD, linked with that inflammatory pathway, tends to have more severe and specific symptoms with significant impacts on quality of life.”
According to the CDC, IBD symptoms include:
- painful cramps
If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, Crunk advises consulting a doctor.
Quintana thinks the new study will provide further insight. How can you lessen your exposure risk to propyzamide? Quintana also hopes the research will aid in the creation of fresh, focused treatments. The research team is working to create probiotics and nanoparticles to target the inflammatory system that exposure to propyzamide, according to their findings, may alter. Ogunseitan emphasises that the problem won’t be resolved without a fundamental shift in legislation and suggests that propyzamide be considered for a phase-out or ban.
What can people do to lessen their exposure in the interim? Knowledge is important, and the new study’s information was crucial. According to Ogunseitan, practising excellent hygiene will help reduce your exposure risk to harmful chemicals. Examples include washing your hands and rinsing produce before using it in a recipe or eating it. It will be challenging to totally avoid exposure to propyzamide through food in the absence of stringent rules, according to the experts. You may, however, lessen the amount of interaction the herbicide has with your body.
Experts advise either trying to cultivate your own fruit and vegetables or purchasing organic produce, while they acknowledge that this recommendation may not be practical for everyone due to financial, living, or time constraints.