Pesticides and ADHD: Is There a Link?

Researchers have found an association between pesticide exposure and ADHD. Here's what you need to know.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 01, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Q. I heard that pesticide exposure may cause ADHD. Should I be worried?

A. At least one in 10 American kids has attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, or ADHD. And a recent study published in Pediatrics did find an association between pesticide exposure and ADHD, so there may be a link.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health studied 1,139 children ages 8 to 15, about 10% of whom had ADHD. All of the children submitted a urine specimen for testing. The urine of children with ADHD had significantly higher levels of byproducts of organophosphates, a class of insecticides that acts on insects' brains and nervous systems. And the higher the level of these byproducts in the urine, the greater the chance the child had ADHD. What's scary is that these kids weren't living on farms or near pesticide manufacturing plants; they were kids exposed to normal levels of pesticides.

Some ways to limit that exposure include buying locally grown fresh produce in season and then washing it carefully. And consider opting for organic versions of produce that tends to carry the most pesticide residues, including peaches, apples, cherries, imported grapes, strawberries, blueberries, celery, bell peppers, spinach, kale, collard greens, and potatoes.

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Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, WebMD Children's Health Expert; pediatrician, Austin, Texas.

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