Prenatal Exposure to Pesticides Slows Development

Here’s another good reason to buy organic — The Organic Trade Association had published a press release revealing three studies linking prenatal exposure to pesticides to delayed cognitive development in children. This could be pesticide exposure from working with pesticides in the environment or exposure when eating foods high in pesticides residues. These cognitive delays include lowered IQ, impaired reasoning and impaired memory.

Dr. Chensheng (Alex) Lu
of the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health says of the study: “Less pesticide exposure during the maternal life stage means less risks to your babies for a variety of diseases that will only manifest years later. Since women eat more during their pregnancy, one significant way to reduce their pesticide exposure is to eat organic foods.” Dr. Lu was involved with previous research which found switching to organic produce made pesticide residues disappear from the urine of children as compared to their eating conventionally produced fruits and vegetables.

The first study enrolled a multiethnic prenatal population from Mount Sinai Center for Children’s Environmental Health, measuring the organophosphate levels in the urine of the third trimester subjects (organophosphates are insecticides that interfere with an insect’s nervous system). They then tested the children at 12 months of age for cognitive development. Their findings suggest “prenatal exposure to organophosphates negatively impacts cognitive development, particularly perceptual reasoning, with evidence of effects beginning at 12 months and continuing through early childhood.”

The second study
was a little more intensive, following children as they aged, measuring their organophosphate exposure during pregnancy and at six months of age and then again at one, two, three and a half and five years. The researchers then administered an intelligence test for the children. What they found was children exposed to pesticides while in the womb had poorer intellectual development (postnatal exposure didn’t seem to make a difference).

Finally, the third study looked at the effects of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos (CPF), another pesticide, on the neurodevelopment of seven-year-olds. The authors had found, in a previous study, prenatal exposure to CPF was linked to neurodevelopmental problems in three-year-olds. The authors reported their findings: “Evidence of deficits in Working Memory Index and Full-Scale IQ as a function of prenatal CPF exposure at seven years of age. These findings are important in light of continued widespread use of CPF in agricultural settings and possible longer-term educational implications of early cognitive deficits.”

So, there you have it.

Exposing yourself to pesticides while you’re preggers could lead to cognitive development problems in your child. The best way to avoid pesticides, other than not working with them, is to eat organic produce. This is the only way to know for sure that you’re not ingesting them (since organic practices prohibit toxic chemicals being applied on the farm).

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, a Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef living in Toronto.