Pesticides Linked to ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has grown in prevalence in the last twenty years, leaving many wondering why. One answer was determined in a study done on a group children aged eight to fifteen years of age. These children were significantly more likely to have ADHD if their urine had high levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites.

Organophosphate pesticide metabolites is a fancy phrase for an organic compound containing phosphorous. Organophosphates are used in insecticides and pesticides. 

Researchers started with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2002-2004) on a cross-section of children. At the time, this group was thought to be representative of all children in the United States. Parents of these 1,193 children were interviewed, and based on their input 119 met the criteria for ADHD. An additional 29 were being medicated for ADHD, bringing the total studied to 148—roughly 10 percent of the original cohort. 
Six concentrations of urinary dialkyl phosphate (DAP) were measured to determine body burden. One or more metabolites were detected in roughly 94 percent of the children tested.

A common chemical called dimethyl alkylphosphate (DMAP) was present in 64 percent of the children studied. Those with the highest concentrations, especially of DMAP, were twice as likely to have ADHD than those with undetectable levels. 

Maryse F. Bouchard, Ph.D., of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the first author of the study, was interviewed by Medscape Psychiatry.  She said, “Each 10-fold increase in urinary concentration of organophosphate metabolites was associated with a 55 percent to 72 percent increase in the odds of ADHD.” This means that the children with a higher concentration of the chemicals were 55 to 72 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Organophosphate pesticides have been linked to neurodevelopmental issues in the past, including memory, concentration, and hyperactivity. Researchers, including Dr. Bouchard, have done similar studies on children regularly exposed to pesticides, like those living on or near commercial farms. This study was a first of its kind in that it did not isolate its research on children with a known exposure.

An interesting wrinkle to note is that DAPs are typically eliminated from the body after three to six days. The results of this study would indicate that many children are exposed to pesticides on an ongoing basis. A likely source is the pesticide residues found in many foods.

The bottom line here is that mothers during pregnancy need to be more careful of the quality of the food they are eating. In addition we need to pay closer attention to the chemicals that their children are getting both in their food as well as in personal care products.

Bouchard, M. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides, Pediatrics, Vol. 125 No. 6 June 2010, pp. e1270-e1277 Published online May 17, 2010 (doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3058)


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