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Volume 38, No. 2

Learning Disorders, Aggression, and Pesticides

There is growing evidence that pesticides contribute to "the rash of learning problems showing up in our schools, the disintegration of the family and the neglect and abuse of children, and the increasing violence in our society"1 In experimenting with his rats and mice, Professor Warren P. Porter, former Chair, Department of Zoology and Professor of Environmental Toxicology, University of Wisconsin, Madison has found that tiny doses of combinations of pesticides, some at levels that can be found in Wisconsin drinking water today, can cause both changes in aggression and learning problems in the animals. He states, "Can you imagine any parents exposing their children to a toxic chemical? And yet they do it all the time [by pesticiding their homes and gardens, eating pesticided food, and permitting pesticiding in their children’s schools and on their playgrounds]. The telling comparison is that we protect laboratory rats and mice better from this stuff than we do our kids."2 He said:

We will not be able to maintain a highly-ordered technological society if we raise a generation of children who are learning disabled and hyperaggressive.3

Most of the neurotoxic and behavior-disrupting pesticides are products stemming from World War II. "In the course of developing agents of chemical warfare . . . insects were widely used to test chemicals as agents of death for man."4 During the Second World War the chemical industry was well developed and full of experts at the manipulation of molecules. Since World War II vast amounts of pesticides of all kinds have been used worldwide and have traveled on air currents even to the remotest areas. "For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death."5 Many synthetic pesticides disrupt our neurological, hormonal, and reproductive systems.

Before World War II the word "pesticide" was not in the English language.6 Formerly, products for killing insects "were derived from naturally occurring minerals and plant products—compounds of arsenic, copper, lead, manganese, zinc, and other minerals, pyrethrum from the dried flowers of chrysanthemums, nicotine sulfate from some of the relatives of tobacco, and rotenone from leguminous plants of the East Indies."4 These products were called "economic poisons."6

Many synthetic chemicals disrupt our hormones and a high proportion of these hormone-disruptors are pesticides.7 Tiny doses can have devastating effects on the fetus, lasting a lifetime. Concerning these effects of man-made chemicals, the authors of Our Stolen Future write: "Wildlife data, laboratory experiments, the DES [a synthetic estrogen] experience, and a handful of human studies support the possibility of physical, mental, and behavioral disruption in humans that could affect fertility, learning ability, aggression, and conceivably even parenting and mating behavior."1

NOHA* Professional Advisory Board Member J. Gordon Millichap, MD, has just written and published, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity and Learning Disorders: Questions & Answers: Facts Backed by Scientific Studies; Causes, Early Signs, Diagnosis, and Treatment Medications, Diet, and Alternative Therapies; How to Use Drugs Safely, With Minimal Risk, Management Roles of Parents, Teacher, Psychologist, and Physician; Outcome and Prevention.8 Dr. Millichap is professor emeritus of pediatrics and neurology, Northwestern University Medical School and, at present, is working in the children’s clinic, Northwestern University Medical School Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago. He is concerned about Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which, as he says "is not a ‘disease’ with a specific known cause, like diabetes or pneumonia; it cannot be treated, controlled, or cured with a specific hormone or an antibiotic." Dr. Millichap has written a superb book for all those concerned, either professionally or personally, with children, adolescents, and even adults, "who are inattentive, easily distracted, abnormally overactive, and impulsive in their behavior." Some patients also can have tics (Tourett’s syndrome), headaches, epilepsy, manic/ depressive episodes ("bipolar disorders"), and/or "oppositional conduct" (including, "loses temper often, . . . steals, . . . destroys others’ property, cruel to animals and/or people, sexually abusive, [and] starts fights, with or without a weapon."

Dr. Millichap gives considerable, complicated evidence "for structural or functional brain changes and a neurological basis for ADHD." For example, decreased cerebral volumes and/or decreases in some particular areas of the brain are found in many ADHD patients.

"What Causes ADHD?" Among the many causes in the prenatal category, Dr. Millichap includes "cerebral maldevelopments . . .alcohol (fetal alcohol syndrome), cocaine abuse, and tobacco smoke. Other environmental factors sometimes suspected are exposure to lead, PCBs, and pesticides in water and diet."

Thus, in this new, just published text we find pesticides in the drinking water and diet of the pregnant mother "sometimes suspected" as a cause of the ADHD diagnosis for her infant.

Another possible causal factor in ADHD is meningitis, itself usually caused by a specific bacterium, Neisseria meningitides and sometimes by Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In regard to disease-causing bacteria in general, there is fascinating material about the effects of the sulfonylurea herbicides (SU) on disease-causing bacteria. Carl E. Whitcomb, PhD, hypothesizes that "the abrupt increase in mutant bacteria since 1980 correlates with the introduction of sulfonylurea (SU) and other acetolactate synthase (ALS) inhibitor-type herbicides over much of the world."9 ALS is an enzyme found in "bacteria, yeast, fungi, . . .algae, and higher plants" and is needed for producing the amino acids valine, leucine, and isoleucine in the organisms. "One of the striking effects of the sulfonylurea (SU)-type herbicides is that the organism is often NOT killed, but rather is severely stunted." Under these circumstances, "the likelihood of resistant mutants occurring is greatly increased."

These herbicides cause problems at levels of 10 to 20 parts per TRILLION or less (far below the detection level of conventional chemical analysis). In soils SU herbicides can last "for seven years or longer and in water, especially alkaline water, the compounds are stable and extremely water soluble. Under these conditions, their life is unknown." Dr. Whitcomb concludes, "If the SU and related ALS-inhibitor herbicides are contributing to the proliferation of resistant strains of bacteria and other disease-causing organisms, their use must be stopped as soon as possible."9

"A very large proportion of all the pesticides used today are neurotoxic."10 Research has shown increases in "IQ between 5 and 15 points . . . by removing as little as 0.1 parts per billion from the blood."11 The reductions in blood levels were accomplished by having the patients for four weeks in an environmental control unit, where pesticides had never been used and where all the food was so-called "organic"—what the late NOHA Professional Advisory Board Member, Theron G. Randolph, MD, called "chemically less contaminated" food because, of course, all land and everyone everywhere on earth is somewhat contaminated by pesticide drift. The before and after lab tests for pesticides are done in a very special extra clean lab so that the samples will not be polluted by organic contaminants.12 The testing was done under Dr. Rea, following the lead of Dr. Randolph in having an environmental control unit and commencing treatment by fasting. Dr. Rea also gave his patients intravenous vitamin C to speed up detoxification.

"Many chronic long-term chemical effects begin slowly and manifest themselves initially as low grade depression, aggression, mood swings, mental confusion, and short-term memory loss."11 Dr. William J. Rea explains succinctly why we need to concentrate on the terrible effects of pesticides. In Chemical Sensitivity Volume 2, he has an entire chapter on pesticides "because of their omnipresence in the environment, their gross misuse, their severe toxicity, and their preponderance as initiators and propagators of chemical sensitivity."

As we all know, food can be grown and our homes, schools, and work places can be kept clean without the use of ANY pesticides. We need to avoid their awful neurotoxic and hormone-disrupting effects.


1Colborn, Theo, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers, Our Stolen Future, Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?—A Scientific Detective Story, Dutton, 1996, p. 232.

2Knapp, Dan, "Warning! Good Looking Lawns May Be Hazardous To Your Health," On Wisconsin, page 53, May/June 1996.

3Telephone conversation between Marjorie Fisher and Professor Warren P. Porter, former Chair, Department of Zoology and Professor of Environmental Toxicology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, March 5, 1991.

4Carson, Rachel, Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962, p. 16.

5Ibid., p. 15.

6Speech by retired chemistry professor, Louis Marchi, PhD, to a League of Women Voters meeting on pesticides.

7Colborn, Theo, Frederick S. Von Saal, and Ana M. Soto, "Developmental Effects of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals in Wildlife and Humans," Environmental Health Prospectives, 101(5):378-84, October 1993. In the listing of "Chemicals with widespread distribution in the environment reported to have reproductive and endocrine-disrupting effects" 35 out of 45 are pesticides and the remaining 10 "industrial chemicals" include dioxin, which is also a contaminant of widely-used pesticides.

8PNB Publishers, Chicago, 1998.

9Whitcomb, Carl E., PhD, "Herbicide/Disease Relationship?" Personal Communication to Professor Warren P. Porter, March 14, 1994.

10Young, B. B., "Neurotoxicity of Pesticides," Journal of Pesticide Reform, 6(2): 6, Summer 1986.

11Sprague, D. E., and M. J. Milam, "Chemical Sensitivity and Pesticides," Journal of Pesticide Reform, 10(2):17, Summer 1986.

12Rea, W. J., J. R. Butler, J. L. Laseter, and I. R. DeLeon, "Pestcides & Brain Function Changes in a Controlled Environment," Clinical Ecology, 2(3):145-50, Summer 1984.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Fall 1998

*The American Nutrition Association was formerly known as the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association [NOHA].

For informational purposes only - not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor an endorsement by the American Nutrition Association®. Use permitted for non-profit and non-commercial uses or by healthcare professionals in their practice, with attribution to www.AmericanNutritionAssociation.org. Other use only with written ANA℠ permission. Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ANA℠. Works by a listed author subject to copyrights as marked. © 2010 ANA℠