How Fetal Exposure to Pesticides Can Lower Your Child’s IQ

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A child’s IQ can be affected by the amount of pesticides their mother is exposed to while pregnant. High amounts of exposure to certain pesticides while pregnant have been linked to lower IQs in school-aged children.

The harmful pesticide is organophosphates. It’s commonly found on berries, green beans, and other various fruits and vegetables. Outside of the grocery store, the pesticide is often used in homes and gardens.

How They Work

Organophosphates kill pests by attacking the nervous system. In addition to being linked with lower IQs, exposure to the pesticide has also been said to be a contributing factor to developmental delays and attention problems in young children.

A child’s IQ may also have a direct relationship with the exposure amount. Researchers suggest that a child’s IQ decreases in proportion to the level of exposure.

Salinas Valley Study

A study was conducted by testing the urine of pregnant Latino mothers that resided in Salinas Valley, a primary location for commercial agriculture. Researchers found that mothers with the highest levels of exposure had children with IQs that were 7 points lower on average than the children of mothers who had the lowest exposures.

The researchers also suggest that the pesticide has more harmful effects on developing fetuses than it does on children. They were not able to draw a successful link between a children’s exposure to the drug, also known as metabolite level, and their IQ level. The pesticide somehow goes through the placenta and umbilical cord, ultimately being passed onto the fetus.

Though farmworkers and the population that were used in the study are slightly likelier to have higher exposure levels, that doesn’t make the rest of the pregnant population exempt from this effect. It is predicted that about 25% of pregnant women in the general population have metabolite levels above the study average.

New York Study

To strengthen their hypothesis, another study was conducted that measured levels of the organophosphate chlorpyrifos in women’s umbilical cord blood. Researchers stued 265 black and Dominican mothers and children from low-income families residing in New York. The results from this study were consistent with those from the Salinas Valley study. They found that the mothers with the highest exposure had children whose IQ scores were on average, 3 points lower than the children who experienced the lowest exposure levels when in the womb.

To make the study as conducive as possible, they controlled for other factors that could contribute to a child’s IQ, including the mother’s education and income.

Unfortunatelly, it’s unclear as to how the pesticide actually affects fetal brain development.

How To Deal With It

The good news is that exposure levels to the pesticide are lower today than they were 10 years ago. Since the pesticide isn’t indoors like it was previously, it’s mostly contracted from fruits and vegetables. However, pregnant women are encouraged to continue eating a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables. The best line of defense against presticides? Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, including fruits that need to be peeled.

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