Common herbicides could harm brain health in adolescents, study finds

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Recent research from the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health at the University of California San Diego reveals a disturbing correlation between exposure to widely-used herbicides and declined brain function among adolescents.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, draws attention to the associations of the herbicides glyphosate and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4D) with neurobehavioral performance.

It highlights the importance of understanding pesticide exposure implications on human development.

Key Findings

Glyphosate: Found in 98% of participants, it’s used expansively in crops and residential vegetation control. The study found its presence associated with reduced scores in social perception.

2,4D: Identified in 66% of participants, it’s used on various surfaces from lawns to agricultural crops.

Higher concentrations were correlated with lower neurobehavioral performance, particularly impacting attention and inhibitory control, memory, learning, and language.

The Significance of The Findings

These findings come amid a backdrop of burgeoning use of these herbicides globally, following the introduction of resistant crop strains.

Glyphosate-resistant crops were introduced in 1996 and 2,4D resistant strains in 2014, which have triggered surges in the usage of these herbicides.

Moreover, these revelations are particularly pertinent considering the ascension in chronic diseases and mental health disorders among adolescents and young adults worldwide in the past two decades.

The correlation between such health issues and exposure to environmental neurotoxic contaminants is now under a microscope, with a 20% and 26% prevalence of diagnosable mental health conditions among adolescents and young adults, respectively.

A Call for Tailored and Inclusive Research

Senior author Jose Ricardo Suarez, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., states, “Hundreds of new chemicals are released into the market each year…very little is known about the safety and long-term effects on humans for most of these chemicals.”

This statement not only underscores a notable gap in our understanding of these chemicals but also emphasizes the urgency for more thorough and widespread research to gauge the true impact of these substances on human health across various life stages.

Ongoing Studies and Future Trajectories

This research is enveloped in ESPINA, a cohort study exploring the ramifications of pesticide exposures from childhood through adulthood.

Following 14 years of participant follow-up, there is anticipation for further evaluation to determine if the observed associations prevail into early adulthood.


As populations, particularly those in agricultural regions, continue to be ubiquitously exposed to herbicides like glyphosate and 2,4D, understanding their overarching and long-term impacts on neurobehavioral performance and mental health becomes imperative.

This research, albeit preliminary, provides a foundational standpoint from which further research can dive deeper, aiding the global effort to mitigate potential health risks associated with such pervasive chemical exposures and ensuring safe practices in their utilization.

This research, embodying a synthesis of public health, environmental science, and neurobehavioral study, pinpoints a crucial intersection where multidisciplinary efforts must converge to navigate the intricate web of environmental exposures and human health.

It is a clarion call for comprehensive, collaborative, and continued research to safeguard future generations from potential neurobehavioral adversities engendered by widespread chemical exposures.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.

The research findings can be found in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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