'Serious Health Risks' Associated With Pesticides

Make Sure That 'Apple a Day' Is Washed

Hansa Bhargava, MD


January 22, 2018

Editor's note: Subsequent to the recording of this commentary, a short-term continuing resolution was passed by Congress and signed by the President that fully funded the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through fiscal year 2023 (FY23).

Pesticides are a convenient way to get rid of the pests in our homes and gardens and on the farms that grow the food we eat. Yet, the increased use of pesticides has been linked to a number of serious health risks.

Some pesticides are irritating to the skin and eyes. Others, including organophosphates, have been linked to nervous system damage and to the development of Parkinson's disease.[1] Pesticide exposure has also been associated with a greater risk for some cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.[2]

Some studies have identified pesticides as endocrine disrupters.[3] Certain people may be especially vulnerable to health effects from pesticides, such as kids. Researchers in China have linked pyrethroids with accelerated puberty in boys.[4] Studies in mice show that these chemicals increased testosterone production,[5] which could influence the early onset of puberty.

Hormone disruption from pesticides may also be one of the factors behind a 50% decline in sperm counts among men in Western countries.[6] Women who are exposed are also more likely to have poor fertility and deliver prematurely in pregnancy.[7] A recent study in Nature[Communications] showed that adverse birth outcomes increased by 5% to 9% in women living in an area where large amounts of pesticides are used.[8]

Concerns over the harmful effects of pesticides have led to recent efforts to ban chlorpyrifos, which studies have linked to developmental delays in children. The American Acadamy of Pediatrics has urged the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse its March 2017 decision to allow the continued use of this substance.

For now, your patients can reduce their exposure by limiting their use of pesticides at home. Also, when eating produce, advise them to remove the outer skin or wash the produce under running water. One study[9] found that using a mix of baking soda and water removes more of the pesticide residues than water alone.

From Medscape, I'm Dr Hansa Bhargava.


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