Pesticide use and inflammatory bowel disease in licensed pesticide applicators and spouses in the Agricultural Health Study

Environ Res. 2024 Feb 12:249:118464. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2024.118464. Online ahead of print.


Dazhe Chen 1Christine G Parks 1Jonathan N Hofmann 2Laura E Beane Freeman 2Dale P Sandler 3


Author information

1Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA.

2Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, NIH, Rockville, MD, USA.

3Epidemiology Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA. Electronic address: sandler@niehs.nih.gov.


Background: Pesticide exposure has been linked to some autoimmune diseases and colorectal cancer, possibly via alteration of gut microbiota or other mechanisms. While pesticides have been linked to gut dysbiosis and inflammation in animal models, few epidemiologic studies have examined pesticides in relation to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Objectives: We evaluated use of pesticides and incident IBD in 68,480 eligible pesticide applicators and spouses enrolled in the Agricultural Health Study.

Methods: Self-reported IBD cases were identified from follow-up questionnaires between enrollment (1993-1997) and 2022. We evaluated IBD incidence in relation to self-reported ever use of 50 pesticides among applicators and spouses. We also explored associations with intensity-weighted lifetime days (IWLD) of pesticide use among male applicators. Covariate-adjusted hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were calculated using Cox regression.

Results: We identified 454 IBD cases, including 227 among male applicators. In analyses with applicators and spouses combined, associations were positive (HR > 1.2) for ever vs. never use of five organochlorine insecticides, three organophosphate insecticides, one fungicide, and five herbicides. HRs were highest for dieldrin (HR = 1.59, 95%CI: 1.03, 2.44), toxaphene (HR = 1.61, 95%CI: 1.17, 2.21), parathion (HR = 1.42, 95%CI: 1.03, 1.95), and terbufos (HR = 1.53, 95%CI: 1.19, 1.96). We had limited power in many IWLD of pesticide use analyses and did not find clear evidence of exposure-response trends; however, we observed elevated HRs in all tertiles of IWLD use of terbufos compared to never use (T1 vs. never use HR = 1.52, 95%CI: 1.03, 2.24; T2 vs. never use HR = 1.53, 95%CI: 1.04, 2.26; T3 vs. never use HR = 1.51, 95%CI: 1.03, 2.23).

Conclusions: Exposure to specific pesticides was associated with elevated hazards of IBD. These findings may have public health importance given the widespread use of pesticides and the limited number of known modifiable environmental risk factors for IBD.

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