A new study suggests that pesticides in foods may be putting kids at higher risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
But before you ban all produce that could be laced with pesticides from your home for fear of an ADHD diagnosis in your children, hear what experts are saying about it. Then consider ways you can limit your kids’ pesticide exposure.
Researchers looked at the urine concentration of organophosphates — one of the most common types of pesticides — in 1,139 children ages 8 to 15 and compared levels between those children with and without ADHD. They found that children with higher levels of the pesticide in their urine had a higher risk of having an ADHD.
What sets this study apart is that it was the first study to look at average levels of organophosphates and ADHD. Previous studies, which found an association between organophosphates and behavior problems, had focused on children who had high levels of exposure to the chemicals.
The primary way children ingest pesticides is through their diet, the study authors said. Organophosphates have been found on frozen blueberries, fresh strawberries, and celery, in addition to other produce. And because children are smaller and their brains are still developing, the pesticides can have a bigger effect on them.
To be clear, the researchers aren’t proposing that organophosphates cause ADHD.
“ADHD involves multiple neurotransmitter systems, and organophosphates apparently impact and impair those systems,” says Jon A. Shaw, MD, professor and chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida.
One way to look at ADHD is to say that some children are born with a genetic predisposition for it, and being exposed to certain factors in the environment may trigger symptoms, says Rolanda Maxim, MD, assistant professor of developmental pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo.
This study may suggest that pesticides can trigger ADHD, but more studies need to be done, Dr. Maxim says.
Also, children can have symptoms similar to ADHD, such as hyperactivity, without actually having the disorder, Maxim says. In this study it’s not clear if all the children had true cases of ADHD.
By Marie Suszynski
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH