The Pesticide-Teen Depression Link: Study

There is an abundance of data available these days on mental health issues and adolescents, with depression leading the pack. Now scientists have found a new link with depression: exposure to pesticides.  The data suggest that adolescents exposed to elevated levels of pesticides are at an increased risk of depression (source).

Study overview

Researchers 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.

To test exposure levels of children, the research team measured levels of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in the blood. Pesticides such as organophosphates and carbamates exert their toxicity by inhibiting AChE activity.

Results overview

The results reveals that 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.


Journal Reference: Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, Naomi Hood, José Suárez-Torres, Sheila Gahagan, Megan R. Gunnar, Dolores López-Paredes. Associations of acetylcholinesterase activity with depression and anxiety symptoms among adolescents growing up near pesticide spray sites. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.06.001