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Your Environment. Your Health.

Exposure to DES Linked to ADHD in Grandchildren

Marc Weisskopf, Ph.D., Sc.D.
Harvard School of Public Health
T32ES007069, P30ES000002, P30ES009089

Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) may be linked to an increased risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in grandchildren of women who used it, according to an NIEHS study. This is the first study linking DES and a neurodevelopmental outcome that extends to users’ grandchildren.

DES was an endocrine-disrupting chemical prescribed in the U.S. to prevent pregnancy complications. It was banned in 1971 after studies reported negative reproductive outcomes in the daughters of women who used it during pregnancy.

In this study, researchers examined 47,540 participants from the Nurses’ Health Study II, analyzing three generations. Participants and their mothers reported DES use during pregnancy, and physicians diagnosed ADHD in participants’ children.

The odds of having ADHD were 36 percent higher in grandchildren of women who used DES during pregnancy compared with grandchildren of women who did not. The odds of having ADHD jumped to 63 percent if the grandmothers took DES during their first trimester, which suggested that this time period might be a more sensitive exposure window. The association did not change based on the sex of the grandchildren.

Several high production chemicals in commercial products are known or suspected endocrine disruptors. Although humans are exposed to them at much lower levels than the levels at which DES was prescribed, the authors cautioned that cumulative consequences of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals warrant consideration.

Citation: Kioumourtzoglou MA, Coull BA, O'Reilly EJ, Ascherio A, Weisskopf MG. 2018. Association of exposure to diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy with multigenerational neurodevelopmental deficits. JAMA Pediatr 172(7):670–677.

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