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Of nitrates in food additives, chemical fertilizers with Alzheimer’s disease

11 September 2009 2,096 views No Comment

SURGING levels of nitrates from nitrogen fertilisers and food additives have been strongly linked to a “pandemic” of diseases related to insulin resistance, including Alzheimers and Parkinsons.

United States statistics show that the risk of an 85-year-old American dying from Alzheimers Disease has increased nearly 200-fold since 1960, with similar devastating trends across the rest of the developed world showing no signs of plateauing.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Dr Suzanne de la Monte of Rhode Island Hospital in the United States, who with a team of researchers investigated whether the rapid rise in certain diseases could be explained by environmental exposure.
“It beats all the charts. What could have possibly changed?”
Dr de la Monte, a regular visitor to China, said prior to about 1980 the brains of deceased Chinese aged 50-100 showed no signs of degeneration. Now the Chinese are also beginning to show the classic signs of damage associated with Alzheimers.
After statistically ruling out genetics and age-related factors, Dr de la Monte and her team began considering environmental exposure.
Agriculture’s swift uptake of yield-boosting synthetic nitrogenous fertilisers immediately after WWII has been one of the most significant changes to the food chain within current lifetimes.
In the US, use of nitrogenous fertilisers increased by 230 percent between 1955 and 2005. Usage doubled between 1960 and 1980—the decades immediately before what the researchers describe as “insulin-resistant epidemics” began to affect mortality statistics.
Dr de la Monte’s work links neuro-degenerative disease to fertiliser via compounds called nitrosamines.
Of the 300-odd nitrosamines studied, more than 90 per cent have been found to be carcinogenic. The compounds cause cellular DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Dr de la Monte’s research suggests that a similar “unbuilding” of nature’s building blocks by nitrosamines may be at work in degenerative diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons and diabetes mellitus.

Nitrosamines are formed in a chemical reaction between nitrates and proteins called amines.
Nitrates are present in high levels in many modern foods, particularly root vegetables, because of overuse of nitrogen fertilisers. They are also added as sodium nitrite, a preservative and food colouring, to products like bacon and manufactured meats.
Amines are in many foods, but are particularly high in meat and seafood.
The reaction that combines these molecules into destructive nitrosamines can be triggered by digestive juices in the mouth and stomach, or high-temperature cooking like frying and flame-grilling.
“We have become a ‘nitrosamine generation’,” Dr de la Monte said.
“In essence, we have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which leads to increased nitrosamine production.”
“Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leaching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking.”
Dr de la Monte accepts that more than one factor may be at work, but nevertheless believes there is a strong case for banning nitrates from food processing.
She understands that they are not so easily removed from agriculture.
“Obviously replenishing the soil with something is necessary, but the degree to which nitrates are added could change. Root vegetables, for example, concentrate these things. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the biggest sources of exposure was to french fries.”
“If farmers can cut back use of fertiliser to where they get good growth, but don’t contaminate people, that might be a good compromise.”
For those who suddenly regret a lifetime’s consumption of barbecued sausage, Dr de la Monte has some cheering words: she believes that if someone minimises their exposure to nitrates, the body might be capable of detoxifying and repairing nitrosamine damage.
“The body is an amazing thing. I actually think that people in their forties and fifties with a lifetime of exposure could be OK. I couldn’t be sure about that, but it’s possible.”
Dr de la Monte’s research was published in the July 2009 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.


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