Pesticides associated with ADHD cases in kids

A man holding produce against the wall of an art museum by wedging it between his body and the wall. Are pesticides and ADHD to blame here?

Was it organophosphate pesticide that brought ADHD and this man together? (Photo: Flickr)

A recent Time magazine report reveals that the medical journal Pediatrics has found what they believe to be a connection between pesticide exposure and ADHD (a learning disability known as “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder”) cases in U.S. and Canadian children. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the total numbers of ADHD diagnoses in the U.S. amount to about 4.5 million kids between the ages of 5 and 17.  In addition, the Centers have tracked an annual growth rate in ADHD diagnosis of three percent each year from 1997 to 2006. Chemical influences like pesticides used to protect produce from insects are believed to contribute heavily to this upward trend. Some scientists believe it may have an even greater impact than other environmental factors like video games, television and online personal loan advertisements that may have been linked previously to ADHD behavior.

Pesticides and ADHD: Watch the organophosphates, please

Toxic pesticides with an ADHD link are identified as organophosphates in the joint University of Montreal/Harvard University study. By observing the levels of pesticide residue in the urine samples of more than 1,100 kids aged 8 to 15, researchers found that those subjects with ADHD had the highest levels of dialkyl phosphates present. These are the byproducts of organophosphate pesticides once they’re broken down. With every tenfold increase in residue detected, the scientists found a 35 percent increase in the odds of pesticide exposure causing ADHD. However, even low levels of exposure seemed to increase the odds of pesticide-induced ADHD.

An association, not a causal link

If anything, this University of Montreal/Harvard University study opens the door for further inquiry, even if it doesn’t conclusively prove that organophosphate pesticides cause ADHD. However, it is known that organophosphate pesticides can cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain, as that is the mechanism through which the pesticide actually kills its intended target. It blocks the neurotransmitter acetylcholinesterase, which perhaps not coincidentally is the same issue going on in the brains of ADHD children. This disruption may cause hyperactive behavior and other cognitive disruptions.

Buy organic and don’t use home bug sprays

The Montreal/Harvard study didn’t focus on the specific method through which children were exposed to the pesticide, but the most obvious connection is through diet – fruits and vegetables sprayed while growing, indicates the National Academy of Sciences. Whether such studies will eventually lead to a national threshold for safe exposure levels remains to be seen. Figuring out just how much is harmful should be a top priority. In the meantime, if families can buy organic fruits and vegetables (or grown their own) and avoid using buy spray in the home, the long-term health benefits could very easily outweigh the short-term costs.

For more information on minimizing chemical exposure in one’s diet, check out the Raw Foods SOS blog. There are lots of myths about buying organic; this source may help you weed through the hype. And here’s a scary story about mercury in everyday foods (even in high-fructose corn syrup) to break out around the campfire.

(Photo Credit: / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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