ADHD and Toxins

Are Environmental Toxins Causing Your Child’s Attention and Behavior Issues?


difficult-childAlthough the exact cause of ADHD is not known, there is increasing evidence that it is a combination of genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors. Two recent studies have shown a connection between two common toxic chemicals and occurrence of attention and behavioral issues. Children are exposed to these two compounds, phthalates and organophosphates, on a daily basis and for some, exposure rates may be high enough to cause neurological impairments.

pesticidesOrganophosphates are commonly used as pesticides on fruits, vegetables, and in landscaping. They are designed to have a toxic effect on the nervous system, however the intended victims are insects. A study in the journal Pediatrics showed that the children with the highest levels of metabolites of organophosphates in their urine were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Previous studies have linked organophosphate exposure to behavior and cognitive issues, but those studies focused on populations expected to have high pesticides such as farm workers as opposed to mainstream children. Residues of the organophosphate pesticides are found on many commercially grown fruits and vegetables including blueberries, celery, strawberries, green beans, and peaches.

plastic-bottlesPhthalates are used commercially as plasticizers, solvents, anti-foaming agents, and alcohol denaturants. They are commonly found in tubing, plastic bottles, vinyl flooring, fragrances, shampoos, cosmetics, and some pesticide formulations. A study in Biological Psychiatry found that higher urinary phthalate levels in children were associated with increased symptoms of ADHD. A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found an association between prenatal exposure to phthalates and increased risk for ADHD. Previous studies have linked phthalate exposure to hormone disruptions, birth defects, asthma, and reproductive problems.

What can you do?

The most important thing that can be done to reduce the risk of toxic effects of organophosphates and phthalates is avoidance. The primary source of organophosphate is pesticides. Although it may be impossible to completely avoid pesticide exposure, purchasing fruits and vegetables that are organically grown can help to reduce your child’s total toxic exposure. The Environmental Working Group has ranked the fruits and vegetables with the highest and lowest pesticide residues (click here for guide). Using this as a guide can help you to make decisions on how to best spend your money on organic produce.

In addition to foods that have the highest levels of pesticide residues, it is also important to think about foods that your child consumes frequently. When it is not possible to purchase organic produce be sure to wash thoroughly and consider using a natural produce wash product. Fruits and vegetables contain many important vitamins and minerals. It is not necessary or advised to restrict your child’s intake of fruits and vegetables. Making smart educated choices can help to minimize risk while ensuring optimal nutritional intake.

To decrease phthalate exposure, take the following steps:

  • Read the ingredients. The Safety Guide to Children’s Personal Care Products can be found here. You can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:
    • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate)
    • DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate)
    • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate)
    •  DMP (dimethyl phthalate)
  • Be wary of product ingredient lists containing the work “fragrance” as it can often contain phthalates.
  • Plastics with recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain phthalates.
  • Do not microwave in plastic.

In some cases, additional steps need to be taken to assist the body in its ability to detoxify compounds such as organophosphates and phthalates. Dietary modification and nutritional supplementation can be used to help decrease the body’s burden of toxins. Dr. Knight can develop an individualized plan for you or your child to help support their body’s ability to handle environmental exposures.