27 July 2009
By David Goodhue
Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant sprayed by the United States military in Vietnam in the 1960s, could be causing heart disease and Parkinson's disease in some Vietnam veterans, according to a new report sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The findings were categorized a s “limited or suggestive evidence of association,” meaning that the evidence indicates only that there could be a link between exposure to a chemical and increased risk for a specific ailment. But the authors of the report said until now, the cumulative evidence of a link between Agent Orange and Parkinson's and ischemic heart disease in veterans had been inadequate draw conclusions, according to the report.
Ischemic heart disease is characterized by reduced blood flow to the heart. It can lead to heart attacks and strokes, and it is the main cause of death among people in the industrialized world. Typical risk factors are high cholesterol, age, smoking, hypertension and diabetes.
The researchers reviewed several studies investigating Agent Orange exposure with the disease, but they contained weaknesses like their inability to adjust entirely for the impact of smoking, age, weight and other risk factors in veterans that were exposed to the chemical. But the researchers now say there is enough evidence to suggest the defoliant could have caused the disease in some veterans.
The report recommends more studies examining the potential connection between Agent Orange exposure and veterans with Parkinson's disease.
Agent Orange was used by U.S. forces between 1962 and 1970 as a defoliant to give Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army soldiers less places to seek cover during the conflict. It was sprayed by airplanes, boats and by soldiers wearing back–mounted equipment.