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Vietnam war chemical weapon found to damage brain in ways similar to Alzheimer’s disease

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Findings could have important implications for military veterans exposed to Agent Orange

The herbicide Agent Orange, which was repurposed and used as a chemical weapon in the Vietnam War, damages the brain in ways similar to early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has found.

Scientists found that the chemical damages the frontal lobes of rats exposed to it, causing abnormalities similar to those seen in patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s.

The latest findings could have important implications for military veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, researchers say.

While the herbicide is known to be toxic and has not been in use for decades, scientists have sought to understand how exactly the chemical caused brain symptoms.

“If we can show that prior exposure to Agent Orange leads to subsequent neurodegenerative disease, then that gives veterans a chance to get help,” study co-author Suzanne M De La Monte from the Brown University in the US said.

Agent Orange was widely used as a chemical weapon by US troops in the Vietnam War, with the herbicide often sprayed on enemy territory by American aircraft.

Government reports over the decades have shown that exposure to Agent Orange caused birth defects and developmental disabilities in babies born to Vietnamese women residing in the affected areas.

The chemical is also associated with an increased risk of some cancers as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes in exposed people.

US and South Korean troops stationed close to the enemy territory were also exposed to the toxic chemical.

Since some of the toxic components of Agent Orange are also present in other lawn fertilisers, scientists say the findings have much broader implications.

“These chemicals don’t just affect veterans; they affect our entire population,” Dr De La Monte said.

In the study, researchers treated rat brain tissue samples to cumulative exposure to Agent Orange, as well as to its separate chemical constituents, and observed the underlying mechanisms and molecular changes.

They found that the herbicide and its constituents can cause brain cell degeneration, abnormalities indicative of cell injury, DNA damage, and other issues.

Researchers concluded that Agent Orange as well as its independent constituent chemicals, including 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid, exert “alarming adverse effects” on the brain.

“That’s why it’s so important to look into the effects of these chemicals. They are in the water; they are everywhere. We’ve all been exposed,” Dr De La Monte said.

The latest findings, according to researchers, can help better understand neurological symptoms seen in US veterans and local Vietnamese residents exposed to the toxic chemical during the war.

By Vishwam Sankaran – The Independent (.uk) – February 15, 2024

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