National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Office of News and Public Information
National Academy of Engineering
Back | Home
News from the National Academies

Read Full Report

Date:  July 24, 2009

Contacts:  Christine Stencel, Senior Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Limited Data Suggest Possible Association Between Agent Orange Exposure and

Ischemic Heart Disease and Parkinson's Disease in Vietnam Veterans

 

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the Institute of Medicine finds suggestive but limited evidence that exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War is associated with an increased chance of developing ischemic heart disease and Parkinson's disease for Vietnam veterans.  The report is the latest in a congressionally mandated series by the IOM that every two years reviews the evidence about the health effects of these herbicides and a type of dioxin -- TCDD -- that contaminated some of the defoliants.

 

A finding of "limited or suggestive evidence of an association" means that the evidence indicates there could be a link between exposure to a chemical and increased risk for a particular health effect, though conflicting results from studies, problems with how the studies were conducted, or other confounding factors limit the certainty of the evidence.  Until now, the cumulative evidence had been inadequate to draw conclusions about whether these two conditions may be associated with veterans' exposures to herbicides or TCDD.

 

Ischemic heart disease -- a condition characterized by reduced blood supply to the heart, which can lead to heart attack and stroke -- is the foremost cause of death among people in industrialized countries.  Major risk factors include buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, age, smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes.  The committee that wrote the report reviewed several studies investigating TCDD exposure and heart disease, many of which showed that higher TCDD exposure correlated with greater incidence of disease.  The studies had weaknesses; for instance, it is difficult to adjust entirely for the impact of smoking, age, weight, and other common risk factors.  But based on the preponderance of the evidence as well as biologic data beginning to show how TCDD can cause this toxic effect, the committee concluded that the evidence suggests that veterans exposed to defoliants contaminated with TCDD during the war may face a higher risk for developing ischemic heart disease.

 

The committee's conclusion that there may be a relationship between Parkinson's disease and Agent Orange exposure stems from its review of 16 studies that looked at herbicide exposures among people with Parkinson's disease or Parkinson's-like symptoms.  The finding was bolstered by several studies that have identified exposure to certain compounds similar to those in the herbicides used in the war as potential risk factors for the development of Parkinson's.  The committee's review was hampered by the lack of studies investigating the occurrence of Parkinson's disease in Vietnam veterans specifically and the lack of animal studies testing the chemical components of Agent Orange for their potential to cause Parkinson's-like symptoms.  The report strongly recommends that studies examining the relationship between Parkinson's incidence and exposures in the veteran population be performed.  Parkinson's disease affects approximately 1 percent of people over age 60 -- some 5 million people worldwide.

 

In response to a request for clarification by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the committee also affirmed that hairy cell leukemia is in the same category as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and lymphomas.  Previous reviews in the series found sufficient evidence to state that there is an association between herbicide exposure and increased risk for CLL and lymphomas.

The report presents scientific data only and does not suggest or intend to imply policy decisions that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs might make.  Also, the findings relate to exposures and outcomes in broad populations; researchers' abilities to pinpoint the health risks faced by any individual veteran are hindered by inadequate information about military personnel's exposure levels during service in Vietnam. 

 

U.S. forces sprayed Agent Orange and other defoliants over parts of southern Vietnam and surrounding areas from 1962 to 1970.  Most large-scale sprayings were conducted from airplanes and helicopters, but herbicides were also dispersed from boats and ground vehicles and by soldiers wearing back-mounted equipment.  

 

The report series is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  A committee roster follows.

 

#       #       #

 


[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

 

 

INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE


Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice

 

Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides:

Seventh Biennial Update

 

 

Richard A. Fenske, Ph.D., M.P.H. (chair)
Professor
School of Public Health
University of Washington
Seattle

 

Erin M. Bell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
School of Public Health
State University of New York
Albany

 

Scott W. Burchiel, Ph.D.
Professor and Associate Dean for Research
College of Pharmacy
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque

 

Janice E. Chambers, Ph.D.
Professor
College of Veterinary Medicine
Mississippi State University
Mississippi State

Naihua Duan, Ph.D.
Professor of Biostatistics in Psychiatry
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
New York City

 

Peter H. Gann, M.D., Sc.D.
Professor and Director of Pathology Research
University of Illinois
Chicago

 

Mark S. Goldberg, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Department of Medicine
McGill University
Montreal

Nancy I. Kerkvliet, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology
Oregon State University
Corvallis

Stephen B. Kritchevsky, Ph.D., M.S.P.H.
Director
J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging
Wake Forest University School of Medicine
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Michele Marcus, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, and
Director of Graduate Studies
Department of Epidemiology
Rollins School of Public Health
Emory University
Atlanta

Linda A. McCauley, Ph.D., F.A.A.N., R.N.
Dean
School of Nursing
Emory University
Atlanta

 

Alvaro Puga, Ph.D.
Professor of Molecular Biology and Environmental Health, and
Associate Director
Superfund Basic Research Program
University of Cincinnati Medical Center
Cincinnati

Jeremy M. Shefner, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor and Chair
Department of Neurology
Upstate Medical University
State University of New York
Syracuse

Hollie I. Swanson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology
University of Kentucky College of Medicine
Lexington

 

 

STAFF

 

Mary Paxton, Ph.D.  

Study Director