ADHD and Pesticides – Is There a Connection?

Written By: The Green Crunchy Mother

four children standing on dirt during daytime

In May (2010), a notable study came out which suggested a possible link between pesticide exposure and ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder). One thousand children were tested for the presence of organophosphates, which are a group of pesticides commonly used in agriculture.

This study differed from similar studies in the past because these 1000 children did not necessarily live in agricultural communities. The question became, then, where are these children getting exposed to these pesticides?

If they do not live on farms where insecticides are regularly sprayed, and if laws inhibit organophosphates for home use, how do these children get these insecticides in their systems? The probability that they ingest these pesticides from their food is high. Organophosphates are commonly used to spray fruits and vegetables (particularly blueberries, celery, and green beans).

Of the 1000 children in the May 2010 study, those with pesticides in their systems were twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of ADHD. The pesticide levels were determined by urinalysis.

This does not establish a firm link between pesticide exposure and ADHD symptoms. However, it indicates strongly that a link may be there and deserves further research and consideration.

What Do Organophosphates Do?

How could these pesticides cause ADHD symptoms? Apparently, organophosphates disrupt a particular neurological enzyme called acetylcholinesterase, or AChE. In fact, this is how organophosphates work on their intended victims – insects. The pesticides are actually called AChE-inhibiting pesticides, and they inhibit the action of this vital brain chemical in bugs. Research has shown that when acetylcholinesterase does not function properly, it may result in the symptoms of ADHD.

Why Not Just Wash Foods?

There are several reasons why just washing produce may not be enough. For one thing, washing and rinsing usually does not remove all of the pesticide residue. Children’s bodies are smaller than adults’, and their systems tend to absorb more nutrients (and toxins) than adults’ systems. Therefore, a small amount of residue would probably affect a child more significantly than an adult.

Also, washing is not necessarily enough when the pesticide may penetrate into the food. Pesticides are sprayed throughout the plant’s life cycle. As the fruit or vegetable forms, the pesticide can get incorporated into the food itself. Pesticides soak into the soil, where they may be taken up by plant’s roots and distributed throughout the fruit or vegetable.

If you are concerned about the possible link between pesticides and ADHD, you might consider eating only organic foods.

What are your thoughts concerning the possible connection between pesticides and ADHD?

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