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Study Links Pesticides in Produce to Developmental Problems

By Megan Tempest in Food on Jun 29, 2010 3:20PM

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Is “attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD) simply a trendy medical diagnosis applied to unruly, excitable children? Or is there a scientific explanation for the rising incidence of ADHD among kids? A study published in the June issue of the Journal of Pediatrics strongly suggests pesticide exposure, specifically to organophosphates, increases risk of ADHD.

How? Reportedly, high doses of organophosphates may inhibit acetylcholinesterase, a nervous system enzyme, while lower doses may affect growth factors and neurotransmitters. The diagnosis of ADHD refers to a group of related conditions that affect a person’s ability to pay attention, complete a task, control impulses and remain physically still. The disorder is thought to be present in the brain at birth or developed shortly thereafter. The most recent statistics from the Center of Disease Control estimate 4.5 million children 5-17 years of age have been diagnosed with ADHD.

In this study, researchers analyzed data on pesticide exposure and ADHD in over 1100 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 15. The finding showed that the children who had higher levels of pesticide in their urine were more likely to have ADHD. As the level of pesticide increase, so did the risk of ADHD. The finding support previous studies that have linked ADHD in babies to pre and postnatal pesticide exposure.

To be clear, the researchers do not claim that pesticides cause ADHD and do not encourage kids to avoid eating produce. However, they do suggest their health may be protected by choosing organic and thoroughly washing all produce. According to the study’s lead author Maryse Bouchard, an adjunct researcher in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Montreal and at Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre, "it's safe to say that we should as much as possible reduce our exposure to pesticides.” "Organophosphates are one of the most widely used pesticides in agriculture to protect crops and fruits and vegetables," says Bouchard. "For children, the major source of exposure would be the diet- fruits and vegetables in particular."

Check out the shoppers guide to pesticides here.