TODAY

TODAY   |  May 17, 2010

Pesticides linked to ADHD in kids?

Can some of the foods your children are eating have an effect on their development? NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman explains the findings of a new study.

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MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Could some of the food that you give your kids as a healthy alternative actually be hurting them? Alarming new research shows that pesticides found in common kid-friendly foods may lead to an increased risk of ADHD in children. NBC 's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman is here with details. Nancy , good morning.

Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hi, Meredith.

VIEIRA: And as you just said, this one caught you by surprise.

SNYDERMAN: Oh, this one caught me by surprise.

VIEIRA: You weren't prepared for this.

SNYDERMAN: It's in Pediatrics , it's a very good study looking at over a thousand kids, sort of representative samples of our children, looking at the foods they eat and whether there could be an increased risk of ADHD . And I want to say we've known in the past that children who live and work on farms and children who are allowed to be near pesticides have an increased risk of neurologic problems. But these were kids who are otherwise not in any high-risk group.

VIEIRA: Yeah, let's talk about the pesticide in question here.

SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

VIEIRA: It's called organophosphate.

SNYDERMAN: Right.

VIEIRA: Exactly what is that?

SNYDERMAN: An organophosphate is a manmade pesticide. It's used to spray fruits and vegetables to keep insects off of them. Obviously, if you can keep the crop healthier you can bring more produce to market. But it interrupts an insect's life neurologically. So the questions has always been, well, if it can do that to an insect, can it do it to a human being? And I think what really hit me in this is that in 28 percent of frozen blueberries, in 25 percent of regular old strawberries on the market, there was residue of organophosphates. Now...

VIEIRA: A high concentration are we talking?

SNYDERMAN: No. And that's just it.

VIEIRA: No.

SNYDERMAN: We all have these things in our bodies because we live in that kind of environment, and organophosphates are washed out of body really, really, really quickly. But what these researchers found is that for every tenfold increase of this residue in urine, there's a 55 percent increased risk for ADHD . So the question is, in kids whose neurologic systems are rapidly developing, can even a small amount of an organophosphate make the neurologic system change somewhat? And is that perhaps why we're seeing more ADHD ? It's an association, not a cause and effect. But I have to say, alarming and yet one more arrow in, I think, the concern we all have about our food chain .

VIEIRA: Is it something that, because it's a pesticide, if you washed the berries, the frozen berries, would that wash away the pesticide?

SNYDERMAN: Maybe, but probably not all of it. I think it comes down to a couple of things. When you have the option, peel your fruit. Obviously, that's not going to be an option in strawberries.

VIEIRA: Right.

SNYDERMAN: In the fruits that can't be peeled, you have to eat locally and eat things in season. Some things aren't meant to be eaten in the winter, they're meant to be eaten in the summer. And I think even for urban kids this is going to be a renewed interest in getting back to the land and knowing where our foods comes from.

VIEIRA: What about if the frozen product says organic ?

SNYDERMAN: It's not going to, and therein lies the rub.

VIEIRA: What do you mean it's not going to?

SNYDERMAN: No one on any label's going to say, `Oh, and by the way, we bathed these in pesticides. Oh, by the way, there's going to be organophosphate residue.' You're not going to find it as a parent.

VIEIRA: No, but I'm saying what if the berries say organic . Not organophosphate, but organic , like organically produced.

SNYDERMAN: If they say organic , just be careful that the word organic means something because it's a word that's been watered down a little bit. So you're right, organophosphate, chemical, you won't see it anywhere.

VIEIRA: Right, on any label, obviously.

SNYDERMAN: Organic and local, I put a lot more credence in that. But usually something organic or pesticide-free or all-natural, that's going to mean it was from the land and harvested the way our forebearers did.

VIEIRA: OK, so very quickly, stay away from the frozen berries?

SNYDERMAN: Know that there's a risk to everything you put in your mouth, and like anything else a little bit of moderation. I wouldn't say don't use them, but I frankly would think twice before I'd put them -- give them to a four, five or six-year-old.