Pesticide exposure may increase the risk of depression among teens living in agricultural communities, reports a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.
Adolescents exposed to elevated levels of pesticides are at an increased risk of depression, according to a new study led by Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Suarez-Lopez and colleagues have been tracking the development of children living near agriculture in the Ecuadorian Andes since 2008. In this latest study, they examined 529 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17. Ecuador is the world's third-largest exporter of roses, with much of the flower production located near the homes of participants. Like many other agricultural crops, flowers are routinely sprayed with organophosphate insecticides, which are known to affect the human cholinergic system, a key system in the function of the brain and nervous system.
The results confirmed their hypothesis: teens who had lower AChE activity, suggesting greater exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors, showed more symptoms of depression assessed using a standardized depression assessment tool. Notably, the association was stronger for girls (who comprised half of all participants) and for teens younger than 14 years.
"Agricultural workers and people in these communities have long offered anecdotal reports of a rise in adolescent depression and suicidal tendencies," said Suarez-Lopez. "This is the first study to provide empirical data establishing that link using a biological marker of exposure, and it points to a need for further study."