Agricultural Pesticides May Be Risk Factor for Gestational Diabetes

(Beyond Pesticides, March 26, 2007)

A new study finds exposure of pregnant women to agricultural pesticides during the first trimester may increase the risk of gestational diabetes. The over twofold increase in risk is associated with some of the most commonly used agricultural pesticides.

The study, published in the March issue of Diabetes Care, used a study group comprised of wives of licensed pesticide applicators. Self-reported pesticide-related activities during the first trimester of the most recent pregnancy were analyzed for 11,273 women. Of this group, 506 women reported having gestational diabetes.

Agricultural pesticide exposure during pregnancy, such as mixing or applying pesticides or repairing pesticide application equipment, resulted in an odds ratio of 2.2 [95% CI 1.5-3.3] for reporting gestational diabetes, in other words, the women were 2.2 times more likely to develop the disease. No association was found between residential pesticide exposure during pregnancy and gestational diabetes, but it should be noted that the study group is not necessarily representative of urban/suburban populations. The increased risk of developing gestational diabetes was associated with the frequent use of 2,4,5-T, 2,4,5-TP, atrazine, butylate, diazinon, phorate and carbofuran.

The data for this study was collected through the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a project that began in 1994 to identify occupational, lifestyle, and genetic factors that may affect the rate of diseases in farming populations. The study has nearly 90,000 participants in total in the states of Iowa and North Carolina. AHS was initiated in response to medical research that indicates agricultural workers may have higher rates of some cancers, including leukemia, myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cancers of the lip, stomach, skin, brain, and prostate, as well as other conditions, like asthma, neurological diseases, and adverse reproductive outcomes that may also be related to agricultural exposures.

While AHS is still ongoing, other findings from AHS indicate that as the reported duration and frequency of pesticide use increases, it is reflected in an increase in reported neurological symptoms. This was particularly evident in those who used insecticides and fumigants. Additionally, the effect was compounded in those who have experienced acute pesticide exposure. AHS data also reveals exposure to certain pesticides may be a risk factor in respect to specific cancers and respiratory ailments.

Further, a growing body of evidence is strengthening the link between pesticides and many serious health problems. For example, Beyond Pesticides asthma brochure details evidence that exposure to pesticides is both a root cause and a trigger for asthma, especially in young children. Infants and unborn children are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of pesticides. Many pesticides disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system, which regulates everything from insulin to fertility.

TAKE ACTION: Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to the effects of toxic pesticides. If you or someone you know is pregnant, please educate them on the dangers of pesticide exposure during pregnancy, and the availability of non-toxic and least toxic alternatives. For more information, see these resources.