dirty dozen. Organic milk too. Pasta, once or twice. Pajamas, never. So you may not be surprised to learn I read the new study linking ADHD to pesticides as my children gobbled up grapes that were not organic, this being New Jersey and not the West Coast where I imagine pesticide-free is an achievable if not cost-effect lifestyle. After finishing the article published in the current Pediatrics, I didn't wince too much, the grapes flown in fortunately from California and not Chile.
The technical language did scare me.
Get set. Here's the deal. Data taken from a large public health study. Over 1,100 kids aged 8 to 15. Urine samples taken in the same general time period their parents completed a telephone survey with questions about their impulsivity, inattention, and other behaviors and traits. Kids with higher concentrations of a couple of the chemicals in their urine were more likely to exhibit ADHD-like symptoms according to their parents. Yes, according to their parents. So not an official ADHD diagnosis.
Okay study. Not great. Could have been better if we'd had independent, professional verification of the ADHD. If we'd gotten urine over a period of time, say three different times, say before the phone interview with momma. Maybe the ADHD symptoms measured over time. See where I'm going? Cue the correlational caveats. Faithful readers, I will only briefly remind you this is a correlational study with the usual directional/causal obstacles.
More important, this correlational confusion is compounded by this pesky problem of pesticides often rather quickly leaving the body via pee. We gotta know they stay there and do something other than tantalize researchers. So to establish pesticides as a trigger for ADHD we'd have to have evidence that it was in not only the pee, but the body (and thus, brain) before the symptoms appear. Long before some stranger rang and asked some time-pressured mom if her child often, sometimes, or rarely had difficulty waiting for his or her turn in line at school/home/ other social situation, would you like me to repeat the question, ma'am?
My other concern here involves the nature of ADHD as a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that doesn't tend to just show up overnight after a salad with a side of suspected toxins. It's not often first diagnosed in teens or even preteens, but younger kids.
Thus the whole time line of the study's just not quite convincing. If pesticides promote neurological changes culminating in ADHD then that's one thing, and we'd have to assume that starts pretty early in life, prenatally perhaps, but it's a whole other hypothesis that the toxins tend to stick around in kids with ADHD or that the chemical culprits show up now and again and somehow perpetuate the disorder that we don't think of as coming and going, waxing or weaning. A jolt of diethyl alkylphosphate here and there most likely does not ADHD a make. It's not how we understand the cluster of symptoms. Hence, my nagging about the timing of the toxin.
And what about that recent study showing kids who take up pesticide-free diets rid their bodies readily of the toxins? Carrying this logic further, no toxin, no ADHD. That, my friends, we know doesn't just happen with a tweak of the grocery list.
We really need to better explain the presence, albeit even temporary, of the organophosophates in the urine.
One more niggling nit-picky thought. I serve my kids pretty much the same foods, organic or non-organic. They're all exposed to the same toxins. As it is in many families - so how to explain same food with one child diagnosed with ADHD? Curious and curiouser....maybe those prone to ADHD are also somehow more susceptible to environmental toxins? Hmmm...
Again, I buy the dirty dozen organic when I can. Mea culpa. Remember this is New Jersey, aka, The Garden State. Rich with industry and no shortage of toxic waste dumps. I try to do the organic thing but am not always sucessful. I repeat, I am no friend to the chemical companies. Not on the pesticide payroll. But, this being the real world, in my case the decidely ungarden-like garden state, I make choices and sometimes buy the pesticide-grown blueberries or whatever my child is finally agreeing to eat. After nearly a decade of parenthood, I have learned to live with some uncertainty and some level of risk, otherwise, I'd have to homeschool my children.
Check out Seeking an Objective Test for Attention Disorder (NY Times, Science, May 31). Good discussion about how an objective test might impact diagnoses and treatment. Current tests include monitoring physical responses (e.g., head movement, blood flow via MRI) to boring tasks.
Should you find yourself without a worry in the world, a text to return or a Tweet to retweet, by all means, read the original journal article while it's free online:
Bouchard, M., Bellinger, D., Wright, R., & Weisskopf, M. (2010). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides PEDIATRICS, 125 (6) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3058