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In Central America (Chichigalpa, Nicaragua) a form of kidney disease is attacking men in the prime of their lives. Researchers are struggling to explain what's causing it.
The condition appears to be concentrated among male agricultural workers, particularly sugar cane cutters, along the Pacific coast.
The first reports of this disease date back at least 20 years. At first the clusters of men dying of kidney failure was dismissed as a fluke. Then it was written off as diabetes or some other underlying health problem that hadn't been correctly diagnosed.
Despite years of research all over the world, scientists still can't definitively pinpoint the cause.
The disease is killing relatively young men, sometimes while they're still in their early 20s. Researchers at Boston University have attributed about 20,000 deaths to this form of kidney failure over the past two decades in Central America.
As the disease progresses, agricultural laborers, who may earn a couple of thousand dollars a year, if they're lucky, end up in need of dialysis that costs tens of thousands of dollars annually.
Now the town is burdened with sick, unemployed men and widows. One community on the edge of Chichigalpa has lost so many men that it's called La Isla de las Viudas — the Island of Widows.
Officials at the Ingenio San Antonio, one of the largest sugar plantations in Central America, say they also use Roundup, but researchers have yet to find a link between the illnesses and the chemical glyphosate.
The researchers propose glyphosate becomes extremely toxic to the kidneys when it’s combined with “hard” water or heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium, either naturally present in the soil or added externally through the spread of fertilizer.
The new hypothesis explains a number of observations linked to the disease, including why afflicted regions like Sri Lanka have seen a strong association between the consumption of hard water and the occurrence of the kidney disease, with 96 percent of CKDu patients having drunk hard or very hard water for at least five years.
The strong association of the consumption of hard water and occurrence of CKDu has been subjected to many discussions among investigators, but none of the available theories could explain this relationship coherently. Here we have explained the association by using glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the disease endemic area. The strong metal chelating property of glyphosate and related compounds is a well-known fact. However, the human health effects of glyphosate-metal complexes have not been given any serious consideration by investigators for last four decades.
Huge advertising campaigns by glyphosate as the best ever herbicide discovered by mankind, reiteration of the easily degradable nature of the original compound in a natural environment and the difficulties in the laboratory detection may have been the reasons for this delay. Results being produced through the current study that is ongoing in the California State University, Long Beach are highly supportive of this hypothesis. Stability of glyphosate metal complexes in various environmental conditions and nephrotoxic properties of the compound should be the subjects of further investigation.
In 2008, documentary filmmaker Jason Glaser was shooting a film about banana workers in Central America, Banana Land, when he came across the community of La Isla. La Isla La Isla de Viudas, "The Island of Widows." What Jason encountered in La Isla was so disturbing that he set aside his work on the documentary to establish La Isla Foundation. He began working with former sugarcane worker Juan Salgado, and La Isla Foundation was born.
The epigenetic lorax: gene–environment interactions in human health
Over the last decade, we have witnessed an explosion of information on genetic factors underlying common human diseases and disorders. This ‘human genomics’ information revolution has occurred as a backdrop to a rapid increase in the rates of many human disorders and diseases. For example, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, asthma, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder have increased at rates that cannot be due to changes in the genetic structure of the population, and are difficult to ascribe to changes in diagnostic criteria or ascertainment. A likely cause of the increased incidence of these disorders is increased exposure to environmental factors that modify gene function. Many environmental factors that have epidemiological association with common human disorders are likely to exert their effects through epigenetic alterations. This general mechanism of gene–environment interaction poses special challenges for individuals, educators, scientists and public policy makers in defining, monitoring and mitigating exposures.
Epigenetic Changes May Explain Chronic Kidney Disease
….In a recent Genome Biology paper, Susztak, and her co-corresponding author John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, found, in a genome-wide survey, significant differences in the pattern of chemical modifications on DNA that affect gene expression in kidney cells from patients with chronic kidney disease versus healthy controls. This is the first study to show that changes in these modifications – the cornerstone of the field of epigenetics – might explain chronic kidney disease.
Epigenetics is the science of how gene activity can be altered without actual changes in the DNA sequence. DNA can be modified by different chemical groups. In the case of this study, these are methyl groups that, like using sticky notes as reminders, open or close up regions of the genome to make these areas more or less available to be “read” as a gene.
Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged and cannot adequately filter blood. This damage can cause wastes to build up, which leads to other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, anemia, and bone disease. More than 10% of people, or more than 20 million, aged 20 years or older in the United States have chronic kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.