DES Exposure Boosts ADHD Risk in Grandchildren

Exposure to the synthetic estrogen called DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy may lead to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), across several generations, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.

DES — which contains potent endocrine-disrupting chemicals — was given to many pregnant women between 1938 and 1971 to prevent pregnancy complications. Between 5 and 10 million pregnant women received the medication. The FDA then stated that DES was contraindicated for pregnancy. Studies later found that the medication was actually harmful and had few benefits.

In the new study, researchers wanted to explore whether there was an increased risk in the third generation (grandchildren) having ADHD when the first generation (grandmothers) was exposed to DES during pregnancy.

Researchers pulled data from the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II) and identified more than 116,000 registered nurses between the ages of 25 and 40 who enrolled in the study in 1989. More than 47,000 women — 861 (1.8%) of whom were exposed to DES while pregnant and 46,679 (98.2%) who were not — were included in the study.

Participants reported information through a questionnaire regarding their health, exposure to DES during pregnancy and ADHD diagnosis. All of the women who participated in this study were born during a time when DES was administered.

The results showed that the 47,540 grandmothers had more than 106,000 grandchildren, 5.3% (5,587) of whom were diagnosed with ADHD. The grandmothers of 137 grandchildren with ADHD (2.5%) were exposed to DES while pregnant with their daughters.

Overall, the study found “significantly elevated odds for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the grandchildren (third generation) of users of [DES], a potent endocrine disruptor.”


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