Expectant mothers who do not wash their fruit and vegetables properly could put their unborn children at risk of developing attention disorders, scientists suggested Thursday.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, studied expectant mothers who were exposed to pesticides throughout pregnancy and carried on the research until their children reached the age of five. The women, who lived in agricultural communities, were found to have absorbed organophosphates—which is widely used on food crops.
Scientists found that a tenfold increase in pesticide metabolites present in the expectant mothers’ urine correlated to a 500 percent increase in the chances of her child having ADHD symptoms by age five, with symptoms appearing to be stronger for boys than for girls.
The researchers said that because the mothers and children in the study live in an agricultural community, their exposure to pesticides is likely higher on average than that of the general U.S. population, but still urged pregnant women to thoroughly wash commercially grown fruit and vegetable produce.
“It’s known that food is a significant source of pesticide exposure among the general population. I would recommend thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before eating them, especially if you’re pregnant,” said Brenda Eskenazi, Berkeley professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health.
Organophosphate pesticides act by disrupting neurotransmitters, particularly acetylcholine, which plays an important role in sustaining attention and short-term memory.
“Given that these compounds are designed to attack the nervous system of organisms, there is reason to be cautious, especially in situations where exposure may coincide with critical periods of fetal and child development,” said he study’s lead author Amy Marks.
Earlier this year, a different study by researchers at Harvard University associated greater exposure to organophosphate pesticides in school aged children with higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.