Agent Orange Exposure Increases Likelihood of Endocrine Complications

July 21, 2014
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

Internal Medicine World Report, July 2014,

Agent Orange exposure several decades earlier may increase morbidity from various diseases, some of which have rarely been explored in previous epidemiologic studies.

In addition to Vietnamese citizens and American service members, many Korean combatants were exposed to dioxin-contaminated Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Since that time, researchers across the Republic of Korea (ROK) have closely monitored the herbicide’s potential negative effects on the body’s endocrine, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems.

Using Korea’s National Health Insurance claims data collected from January 2000 to September 2005, a team of scientists from the ROK have evaluated the prevalence of various disorders among a total of 111,726 Korean Vietnam War veterans with confirmed Agent Orange exposure.

According to the research findings published in the August 2014 issue of Environmental Research, veterans with high exposure to Agent Orange had only “modestly elevated odds ratios (ORs) for endocrine diseases combined and neurologic diseases combined” compared to the low exposure group, but they had significantly greater likelihood of developing “hypothyroidism (OR= 1.13), autoimmune thyroiditis (OR= 1.93), diabetes mellitus (OR= 1.04), (and) other endocrine gland disorders, including pituitary gland disorders (OR= 1.43).”

Additionally, the high Agent Orange exposure group demonstrated elevated risk for “amyloidosis (OR=3.02); systemic atrophies affecting the nervous system, including spinal muscular atrophy (OR=1.27); Alzheimer’s disease (OR=1.64); peripheral polyneuropathies (OR=1.09); angina pectoris (OR=1.04); stroke (OR=1.09); chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), including chronic bronchitis (OR=1.05) and bronchiectasis (OR=1.16); asthma (OR=1.04); peptic ulcer (OR=1.03); and liver cirrhosis (OR=1.08),” the authors wrote.

In light of the increased prevalence of endocrine, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, and digestive system disorders with high exposure to Agent Orange, the researchers concluded their study “suggests that Agent Orange exposure several decades earlier may increase morbidity from various diseases, some of which have rarely been explored in previous epidemiologic studies.”