pesticides and Adhd

Pesticide Exposure May Increase the Risk of ADHD

Pesticide Exposure and ADHD

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics looks more closely at the issue of pesticides and the risk of ADHD – and raises new concerns about pesticides in the environment – particularly organophosphates.

Researchers from the University of Montreal measured levels of pesticides in the urine of 1,139 children living in the U.S. They found that kids with the highest pesticide levels in their urine – particularly organophosphate pesticides – had a higher risk of ADHD than kids with low levels. Although this doesn’t prove that organophosphate exposure increases the risk of ADHD, it does show there’s an association between the two – which should be of concern to any parent.

Organophosphate Exposure: What are Organophosphates?

Organophosphates are commonly used pesticides that are toxic not only to bugs and other pests, but to animals and humans as well. These pesticides deactivate an enzyme called acetycholinesterase. When this enzyme is inactivated, it causes nerve cells to fire repeatedly without rest which leads to paralysis.

Organophosphates were originally developed for use as toxic agents for warfare. They also affect brain development – even at low levels. Because of the effects organophosphates have on nerves and brain development, it’s not surprising that exposure to organophosphates could increase the risk of ADHD in children.

Exposure to Pesticides: How Are Kids Exposed to Organophosphates?

There are around forty organophosphates used in the United States – and the primary way kids are exposed to pesticides such as these is by eating contaminated fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know when you buy fruits and vegetables at the grocery store whether they’re contaminated with organophosphates. It’s not something that’s advertised. When you buy produce, you’re buying at your own risk.

How to Reduce Kids’ Exposure to Pesticides Such as Organophosphates

Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, so it’s important that kids be able to enjoy them safely. The way to ensure that your children are eating fruits and veggies that are almost free of pesticides is to certified organic ones.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that kids who were switched from conventional diets to organic foods showed a significant drop in their urine levels of organophosphates to the point that they were almost undetectable. After a conventional diet was reintroduced, levels of these pesticides in the urine rose again.

ADHD in Childhood and Exposure to Pesticides: The Bottom Line

The best way to protect your child against exposure to pesticides that could increase the risk of ADHD is to buy organic fruits and vegetables – and wash them well before serving. It may cost a little more, but it could reduce the risk of future health problems.


Medical News Today website. “Pesticide Exposure May Contribute To ADHD”

Environ Health Perspect. 2006 February; 114(2): 260–263.

Author: Dr. Kristie

Dr. Kristie is a medical doctor with a concentration in family practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and a master’s in Clinical Pathology. She’s been a published writer for the last two years and was named one of Associated Content’s top 100 writers.