Pesticides and ADHD

A central part of the strategy that I propose in my bestselling book ‘3 Steps to Conquering ADD-ADHD’ is the active avoidance of substances that are harmful (summarized in the book as Avoid the Bad). You may be surprised to learn that I sometimes include fruit and vegetables in this category. “How can this be?” I hear you ask. Well, it is often the case that fresh produce have been treated with so many types of chemicals, pesticides and insecticides that by the time it reaches our tables it is positively dangerous for us. My advice has therefore consistently been that you should take great care in selecting fruit and vegetables in order to make sure that you source products that will indeed be good for you.
Claims about the potential harmful effects of pesticides have consistently been denied by the chemical industry. Their standard response, up to the present, is that studies that identified negative outcomes due to exposure to pesticides dealt almost exclusively with subjects that had exposure way above what could be considered normal or safe levels (e.g. farm workers, fruit packers etc). A groundbreaking new piece of research is showing up this claim for what it actually is: a public relations exercise.
The study (jointly conducted by School of Public Health at Harvard University and the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Montréal) took a very broad-based approach in testing its hypothesis about the harmful effects of pesticides. It did this by analyzing the urine samples of 1,139 children in order to determine the levels of pesticide byproducts. These levels were then cross referenced with the incidence of ADHD among the children.  Results were nothing short of astounding. Children with high levels of pesticide byproducts in their bloodstreams were, on average, more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD.
It is not difficult to work out why this would be the case. Most pesticides rely on organophosphates as its core ingredient. Organophosphates work by attacking the nervous system of the pests that are targeted by pesticide products. It is therefore quite logical that organophosphates that somehow make it into the bloodstream will have a similar disruptive effect on our nervous systems. Dr. Maryse Bouchard (lead author of a study on this research that recently appeared in the Journal Pediatrics) says: “Organophosphates are designed to have a toxic effect on the nervous system. That’s how they kill pests…so it seems plausible that exposure to organophosphates could be associated with ADHD-like symptoms.”
So how can we protect ourselves and our children from exposure to dangerous organophosphates? Here are some basic suggestions:
Go organic: Eating organic alternatives is perhaps the best possible way to avoid pesticides and additives. I do realize that organic foods are often more expensive and that organic alternatives are not always available locally, but I also maintain that in some cases the extra cost and effort would be more than justified.
Buy local as far as possible: Both the United States and Canada have strong policies in place that restrict the use of organophosphates in food production. This does not mean that no pesticides are used just that its use has to be restricted to what is believed to be safe levels (it is for this reason that I recommend organic as the best option for totally eliminating the dangers of pesticide use). The problem is however that a great deal of the food we consume is imported from countries where the same restrictions do not exist. It is also the case that the transportation of such foodstuffs from halfway across the world may require additives and preservatives. It is therefore a good idea to always check the label and buy local if at all possible. An even better idea would be to find out if there is a farmers market in your area. Buying fresh produce from a farmers market is a great way to actively support local businesses and to ensure that you do not consume food made potentially unsafe by its country or region of origin.
Grow your own: I realize that this will not be a viable option for many people. However, if you can manage to grow at least some of your food yourself I would certainly encourage you to do so. This will not only allow you to make use of organic methods of production it will also create a whole new attitude towards food in your household as it re-establishes an appreciation for the origins of what you have on your plates.
There is obviously much more to be said about the dangers of chemicals in our food and methods of avoiding this. I therefore encourage you to take a look at some articles that I previously wrote on the subject. They can be found here:
In the meantime I would like to encourage you to do a food audit. You can do this by taking careful note of everything that you and your family eat for a month and then eliminating foodstuffs that are likely to contain significant amounts of pesticide residues. Good luck to you as you take this very important step towards a healthier lifestyle!