ADHD and Pesticides

ADHD and Pesticides:
What You Need to Know Right Now

The alleged link between adhd and pesticides has been in the news a lot lately. But are you concerned about the effects of agricultural products on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? Many parents are becoming informed, now that we have even more reason for concern about the effects of pesticide residues on brain function in children.

First some background: As I wrote briefly on the Holistic Medicine Blog last June, even the mainstream pediatric medical journals have now published data showing that children with higher levels of pesticide residues in the body (in school age) are more likely than their peers to show symptoms consistent with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents need to know that pesticides are toxic to children’s brains and affect learning and behavior, even in doses one can get from eating a seemingly healthy diet. A correlation does seemingly exist between adhd and pesticides in our foods.

Now we know that the effects of agricultural products on intelligence begin before birth and last for years. Two articles in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published online April 21, 2011, have shown that a baby in the womb whose mother has higher levels of pesticide exposure will have lower IQ scores and brain function at age 7.These studies were done independently in very different environments, and so add credibility:

The study of urban children in New York City showed that maternal exposure to a pesticide called chlorpyrifos was linked to lower IQ scores and working memory in children at age seven. While chlorpyrifos used to be a commonly used indoor “bug killer” it was banned for residential use by the EPA in 2001; it still is permitted for agricultural chemical use however, and gets into the food supply.

The study of children in California looked at maternal exposure through work on farms tending and harvesting conventionally grown crops. The children whose mothers had the highest levels of organophosphate pesticides in the body had a full 7 point lower IQ score than their peers by the age of seven years. And interestingly, it was the prenatal exposure–not the level of pesticides in the kids at age 7–that accounted for the drop.

What do you need to remember from this? A baby exposed to pesticides before birth, in amounts commonly encountered in daily life in the USA, may have decreased IQ and working memory years later at the age when patterns of success or failure in the school system are being formed. Could this be one of the factors that explains the apparent increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the US? Perhaps. At least it is one factor we can do something about. The link between adhd and pesticides is definitely not something to be taken lightly. Agricultural products should first of all be safe, and no-one is more vulnerable to unsafe products than children.

To reduce your exposure, as I have written before, use the Shoppers Guide to Pesticides from the Environmental Working Group when choosing produce, and at the very least only buy organic for foods listed in theDirty Dozen . And when possible, support local organic farmers and Consumer Supported Agriculture.

To your health,

Robert Pendergrast, MD, MPH 

Learn about the ADHD Nutrition Connection

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