Early exposure to pesticides linked to small increased risk of autism spectrum disorder

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Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles published a study in The BMJ on the correlation between early pesticide exposure and the risk of autism spectrum disorder. While existing evidence suggests that exposure to pesticides during early brain development could affect typical cognitive development, there are very few studies about its impact on the risk of autism. (1, 2)

Through a population-based case-control study, researchers found that early exposure to pesticides is linked to a small to moderate increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. (1)

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder affects communication and behavior. It is known as a developmental disorder because its symptoms usually arise within the first few years of a person’s life. (3)

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder because the people who have it experience a wide range of symptoms, and there is variation in their severity. Generally, people with autism experience: (3)

  • challenges in communicating and interacting with others
  • limited interests 
  • repetitive behaviors
  • symptoms that make it difficult for them to function typically in school, work, or other parts of their life

Some children with autism exhibit symptoms from birth, while others develop typically for some time and then suddenly undergo changes in behavior and learning. Usually, autism symptoms are observable by the time a child is two years old. (3, 4)

Scientists have not found a specific cause for autism. However, they have identified several risk factors that make a diagnosis more likely, including: (3, 4)

  • parents’ ages – It is possible that being born to older parents increases a child’s risk of developing autism spectrum disorder. However, further research is necessary to confirm this connection.
  • family history – Children who have an older sibling with autism have an increased risk of also developing the disorder. 
  • sex – Boys are about four times more likely to have autism than girls are. 
  • extremely preterm birth – Babies born extremely prematurely (before 26 weeks) may be more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder.
  • genetic conditions – People who have genetic conditions like Rett syndrome, fragile X syndrome, and Down syndrome have a higher risk for autism.

It is not possible to prevent autism. However, there are several treatment and therapy options that can relieve some of the difficulties of the disorder. Medication may be helpful for individuals who struggle with aggression, irritability, hyperactivity, attention issues, repetitive behaviors, anxiety, or depression. And behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy can help people with autism to learn new skills and leverage their strengths. (3, 4)

Pesticides and Autism

There have been a number of theories suggesting that environmental toxins could increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder. To this end, there have been studies on the connection between air pollution and the disorder, but there are few studies on how pesticide exposure might affect it. (1)

For one study, researchers at UCLA retrieved records of autism spectrum disorder from the registry at the California Department of Developmental Services. They identified 2,961 patients with a primary diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, 445 of these participants had an accompanying intellectual disability. The case records from the Department of Developmental Services were matched to birth records from the Office of Vital Statistics. (1, 2)

The researchers matched each participant who had autism with about 10 randomly selected control participants from the same sex and birth year. There were a total of 35,370 control patients. All of the study participants were born in California’s Central Valley between 1998 and 2010. This region is mainly agricultural. About 80% of the participants were male. (1, 2)

Early Exposure to Pesticides

California’s state-mandated Pesticide Use Registry (CA-PUR) has information on all applications of agricultural pesticides. Their records include the date, location, and how much of the pesticide was used. (1)

The UCLA researchers input data from C-PUR into a geographic information system-based computer model to estimate pesticide exposure from agricultural applications during the prenatal and infant stages. The researchers assessed for 11 commonly used pesticides that have evidence of interference with cognitive development. The pesticides they analyzed were: (1, 2)

  • glyphosate
  • chlorpyrifos
  • diazinon
  • acephate
  • malathion
  • permethrin
  • bifenthrin
  • methyl bromide
  • imidacloprid
  • avermectin
  • myclobutanil

The researchers found a small to moderately increased risk for autism spectrum disorder with exposure to these pesticides before birth and during the first year of life. There was a stronger association between exposure to pesticides during the first year of life and children with both autism and an intellectual disability. (1, 2)

The study had limitations, including its reliance on patient records. It was also an observational study, and as such, it cannot confirm pesticide exposure as a cause of autism spectrum disorder. (1, 2)

Despite its limitations, this study provides preliminary evidence on a long-suspected issue. “Our findings suggest that risk of autism spectrum disorder increases with prenatal and infant exposure to several common ambient pesticides that have been shown to affect neurodevelopment in experimental studies,” its authors write, “To our knowledge, this study is the largest to investigate pesticide exposure and autism spectrum disorder so far, and the first to also consider the disorder with intellectual disability comorbidity.” (1)

They acknowledge that further research is necessary to learn more about how autism develops and how pesticide exposure may affect it. “However,” they write, “from a public health and preventive medicine perspective, our findings support the need to avoid prenatal and infant exposure to pesticides to protect early brain development.” (1)

Detoxing and Defending Against Pesticides

While avoiding exposure to pesticides is best for both children and adults, for some people, it’s just not possible. Depending on where they live and how they are employed, people come into contact with agricultural pesticides every day, possibly without knowing it. 

Pesticide exposure can wreak havoc on the body and brain, causing hormone disruption, neurological damage, immune suppression, cancer, and more. But what can a person who is regularly exposed to pesticides do to protect themselves?

Fortunately, Everday Pesticide Detox and Defense can help. This advanced detox formula helps remove health-robbing pesticides and prevents them from being stored in your body. It also offers added protection for organs and systems that are especially susceptible to damage from pesticides and environmental toxins, like the thyroid, GI tract, and microbiome.

This formula is designed to do three main things. The first is to find and remove glyphosate and other agricultural and environmental toxins, like bromide and fluoride. Secondly, it blocks these toxins from being absorbed into sensitive organs and tissues, like your thyroid. Finally, it helps protect your microbiome and gut flora.

Powerful natural binders in this formula, such as citrus pectin, alginates, and organic Icelandic kelp give broad-spectrum defense against a range of pesticides, toxic halogens, organophosphates, and other dangerous environmental toxins. Iodine-rich kelp and glycine compete with chemicals such as glyphosate, bromide, fluoride, and others to block their absorption into sensitive organs and tissues. These multi-targeted ingredients also provide essential nutrient support for thyroid health, your digestive system, and other areas that are vulnerable to ongoing toxin exposure.

Pesticides are everywhere in today’s world, and even eating organic can still bring some level of exposure. For optimal health, gentle yet effective daily detox support can help prevent these ubiquitous toxins from wreaking havoc on our brains and bodies.


  1. Ehrenstein OSvon, Ling C, Cui X, et al. Prenatal and infant exposure to ambient pesticides and autism spectrum disorder in children: population-based case-control study. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.l962  Published March 20, 2019. 
  2. Early exposure to pesticides linked to small increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190320215818.htm  Published March 20, 2019.  
  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml Published March 2018. 
  4. Autism spectrum disorder. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928  Published January 6, 2018. 

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