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US veterans exposed to Agent Orange twice as likely to have dementia: study

By Phan Anh   January 27, 2021 | 07:30 pm PT
US veterans exposed to Agent Orange twice as likely to have dementia: study
A U.S. helicopter sprays Agent Orange on a dense jungle area in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. Photo by Shutterstock.
U.S. veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are twice as likely to have dementia, a recent study has found.

For the study, which concluded in October 2020 and was published on Monday in JAMA (The Journal of the American Medical Association) Neurology, over 300,000 veterans were examined.

Scientists at the University of California and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System found that exposure to Agent Orange, based on medical records, made them nearly twice as likely to suffer from dementia even after adjusting for medical and psychiatric comorbidities and other variables, the study said.

Five percent of veterans with documented exposure to Agent Orange were diagnosed with dementia, compared to 2.5 percent when there was no known exposure, Deborah Barnes, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, said.

While additional studies are needed to find the association between Agent Orange exposure and dementia, dioxin, one of the main ingredients of Agent Orange, is known to be stored in fat tissue for a long time.

The chemical might have been slowly released over time and caused toxic effects on the brain, and Agent Orange also increases the risks of other disorders known to be risk factors in causing dementia, Barnes said.

Meanwhile, a French court on Monday heard a case filed by French-Vietnamese journalist and activist Tran To Nga against more than a dozen multinationals accusing them of being responsible for the harmful effects of Agent Orange on her, her children and many others.

"I'm not fighting for myself, but for my children and the millions of victims," AFP quoted her as saying.

She said she was suffering from typical Agent Orange effects, including type 2 diabetes and an extremely rare insulin allergy.

Millions of people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to Agent Orange for over a decade until 1971 when the U.S. military sprayed an estimated 76 million liters (20 million gallons) of the herbicide and defoliant to halt the advance of North Vietnamese troops and deprive them of food.

Dioxin, a highly toxic chemical, stays in the soil and at the bottom of lakes and rivers for generations. It can enter the food chain through meat, fish and other animals, and has been found at alarmingly high levels in human breast milk.

Between 2.1 to 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals, which have been linked to cancers, birth defects and other chronic diseases.

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