My Child, Pesticides, and ADHD : Any Connections?

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Can Pesticides or Other Heavy Metals Cause ADHD - like Problems?

For the last eight or so months I have been helping my father, Dr. Doug Cowan, by editing and publishing this ADHD newsletter. Recently, national news highlighted an article regarding pesticides and a possible link to ADHD in children. I try to be purposeful in feeding my child healthy foods, and so I was very interested in the study, and I think that you might be as well.

Here is the summary: In a study of 119 children with ADHD it was found that the children with ADHD had higher levels of urinary dialkyl phosphate concentrations than did a control of 1139 children without ADHD previously studied (2004). The study concluded that the findings supported the idea that organophosphate exposure, even at levels that are commonly found in children, may contribute to ADHD.

Even though I am a Child Development major, I am still just a young mom attempting to figure out “parenthood” in the 21st century. I am constantly bombarded with the challenge of raising healthy children. It starts at pregnancy with the brochure of what is and is not safe to eat, drink, wear, etc. No soft cheeses, no caffeine, no herbal teas, no nitrates, no sun-tanning, no hair dying, no hot tubbing, no, no, no. After wrapping my brain around the small but significant life changes I would have to make, I then had to maintain my sanity. “Is this ok to eat?” “Am I gaining too much weight?” “Does standing by a microwave damage my baby’s ability to do multiplication?” I was constantly grappling with new (and usually ridiculous) fears and unanswered questions. Half way through my second trimester, I was over it. I avoided the foods my doctor warned against (most of the time) and I was smart about my activities and energy levels. I refused to allow every little thing to cause me fear or make me question my ability to be a good mom. I felt liberated and empowered.

Then the baby came…

There are 50 billion books on how to care for a baby. All of them say something different. One book says to feed on demand, another says to schedule. This one says let them cry, that one says hold them at all times. After my baby was three weeks old, I put the books down and decided to make decisions based on our lifestyle, my child’s developing temperament, and how I could get the most sleep.

Now my little dude is 18 months old and we have entered a whole new level in the game of parenting. Climbing has become a favorite activity along with throwing all objects (food included) and discovering what will and will not float in the toilet bowl. Everything about being a mom has become more complicated. One nap or two? Pacifier or no pacifier? Barney or Thomas? So many choices to make every minute of every day.

The most recent dilemma I have found myself grappling with is the choice between organic and non-organic foods. I have watched all the documentaries and youtube videos on the reality of where most main-stream foods come from and the process by which they get to our local grocery store. They all make me want to move to my own farm and grow my own dinner. Since that is not a realistic solution, I have had to step back and decide how I am going to let this new information on food affect my family.

The first goal I made was to begin to meal plan in order to save money and be intentional about the food I bought at the store. My next goal was to buy most of our produce at a local farmer’s market or fruit/veggie stand. I am currently working on my third goal of serving my family only organic produce. After reading a recent article on pesticides in Time Magazine, I can assure you I will begin to work much harder on goal number three.

Last week, “Time Magazine” featured an article on the relation between ADHD and organophosphates (a type of toxic pesticides found on grocery store fruits and veggies). According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, higher concentrations of pesticides were found in the urine of children diagnosed with ADHD than children without ADHD.

The more I read and re-read the article, the more uncomfortable I became. Not only is it disturbing to think about pesticides being traceable in a child’s urine, but the thought of my child ingesting the same chemicals used to kill bugs by “causing damage to the nerve connections in the brain” is pretty upsetting as well.

Though there is further research to be done, the study described in Time Magazine is not the first of its kind. Apparently the possible link between pesticides and ADHD has been up for debate for some time. It sounds to me like Dr. Bouchard, the leading researcher on the project, is pretty convinced…

Bouchard suggests that concerned parents try to avoid using bug sprays in the home and to feed their children organically grown fruits and vegetables, if possible. (Otherwise, parents should be careful to scrub all produce to reduce residue.) While pesticide-free fruits and greens may be more costly, Bouchard says they may be worth the price in terms of future health.

Here are the references for more on the study and related articles:

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides
Maryse F. Bouchard, Ph.D., David C. Bellinger, Ph.D., et. al
Published online May 17, 2010
PEDIATRICS (doi:10.1542/peds.2009-3058)

The full text is available in PDF format at:

Time Magazine article referenced:,8599,1989564,00.html

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