Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Pesticides on fruits and vegetables found to increase risk of ADHD

Research results favor organic fruits and vegetables again.  According to Harvard researchers evaluating the topic, there appears to be a link between pesticide exposure and the development of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  The research appears in the May 17 issue of Pediatrics.  Data was available on a study population of more than 1000 children (from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2000-2004), aged 8 to 15.  Turns out, children with higher than normal levels of pesticide residues (detected in urine) were about twice as likely to have ADHD as those with undetectable levels of pesticide residues.  And, even at the highest levels detected, the pesticide exposure was to relatively low-levels of common pesticides!

Alarmingly, similar findings have been found in other research, too.  As we know, pesticides are designed to kill pests.  They do so by affecting the nervous system of these organisms.  So, who is to say that they cannot do damage to our nervous systems, too?  It is known, as cited in the recent article in Pediatrics, that pesticides (organophosphates) have been associated with negative effects on human neurodevelopment such as behavioral problems and lower cognitive function.  Previous research, however, has focused on higher levels of exposure and individuals living on or near farms.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a handy Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in order to help consumers avoid consumption of pesticide residues often found in fruits and vegetables.  According to the EWG, consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80 percent by avoiding the most contaminated produce and only eating the “cleanest” produce.  You can download a pocket-size copy of the guide at www.foodnews.org, get an iPhone app of the guide and listen to a message from Dr Andrew Weil on the topic.  The guide is helpful so you have it when purchasing fruits and vegetables.  The “Dirty Dozen” represents the produce that is most often highly contaminated with pesticide residues – celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes and grapes (imported).  It is best to choose organic versions of all these items to significantly lower your pesticide exposure.

The proof seems to be in the pudding as far as I can tell and represents one of the reasons I aim to select organic and local produce as much as possible for my family – since they usually contain no or smaller amounts of pesticide residues.  Children and fetuses are at highest risk – as research continues to link the risk of pesticide exposure on growing children.

The EPA considers food, drinking water and residential pesticide use as important sources of pesticide exposure.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, children are most commonly exposed in their diet.  As a side note, however, look into more natural ways to control pests around your house!  Many pest companies offer organic or “green” treatment options.  For instance, Carolina Pest Management offers a great green option.  And, most importantly, choose high quality foods and beverages for you and your children, utilizing organic and local farm products!  Check out Absolute Organics (www.theabsoluteorganics.com) for great home delivery of organic produce in our area.

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