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Heavy Metals’ Effect on Susceptibility to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder

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While we don’t realize it, we as humans living in modern society are exposed to countless toxins and substances that burden our bodies everyday. 

Food, body care, and home-goods markets are highly unregulated. Air freshener, cleaning spray, scented candles, shelf stable foods, body wash, city water, toothpaste – all of these daily essentials that we don’t think twice about using and consuming are likely to contain hormone disrupting toxins and carcinogens. 

There is one group of substances that takes the cake however, heavy metals – our main offender.

When we think about health and nutrition for our children, heavy metals are not typically at the forefront of our minds. 

There are metals like zinc, iron, copper and silver that are essential to a healthy body and hearty immune system, and oftentimes adults and children alike are deficient. 

However, not all metals are created equal. Certain metals can wreak havoc on our bodies, especially developing bodies. 

ADHD and Toxic Heavy Metals

According to a 2018 study conducted by the  National Center for Biotechnology, heavy metals may be linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and be harmful to a child’s brain development. 

The study suggests child exposed to an abundance of lead, cadmium, mercury, and antimony during their early development stages experience more ADHD symptoms. 

In the study discussion, it notes, “We know that Pb (lead) interrupts the dopamine pathway, which is one of the major neurotransmitter pathways that is involved in ADHD, resulting in dopaminergic neuron damage and the disruption of the homeostasis of calcium-dependent neurotransmitters.”

Lead and mercury are in many things, even toys. When considering a child’s routine and daily habits, parents may want to think about the heavy metals they and their childs’ exposure in everyday products.  

Behavior Problems, Low IQ, and Lead Exposure

Exposing a child to lead can be detrimental to their overall health and potentially lead to lower IQ and behavioral problems. 

The Environmental Defense Fund conducted a study in 2017 identifying eight types of jarred baby foods that had detectable lead in more than 40% of samples. 

Shockingly, in children’s fruit juices, they found that 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, with mixed fruit (67%), apple (55%), and pear (45%), and in pureed baby food, they found, sweet potatoes (86%) and carrots (43%). In baby cookies, arrowroot cookies (64%) and teething biscuits (47%). 

If a parent observes any behavioral issues with their child, consult with their child’s doctor and ask about looking into lead and heavy metal testing. 

In the meantime, doing the due diligence of researching the food companies one feeds to their families is critical. 

Alternatively, preparing baby foods at home from scratch may be the best way to know what exactly goes into your child’s developing body.

Autism and Mercury

Mercury exposure can be detrimental to children, and parents should work to avoid exposing their children to this dangerous heavy metal.

In 2001, The National Center for Biotech Information released a study, Autism: a novel form of mercury poisoning; researchers explain the similarities between autism and mercury poisoning. “Of these studies, the vast majority (74%) suggest that mercury is a risk factor for ASD, revealing both direct and indirect effects.”

A source of mercury exposure is through vaccinations. While vaccines have many benefits, the ingredients that keep a vaccine shelf-stable can expose children to levels of heavy metals their bodies cannot handle and can end up causing symptoms associated with autism. In the cited publication,

 “Thimerosal, a preservative added to many vaccines, has become a source of mercury in children who, within their first two years, may have received a quantity of mercury that exceeds safety guidelines.” 

Mercury is still used in modern dentistry as well. The Children’s Health Defense released an article stating dental amalgam fillings contain 45% liquid mercury, although they are considered “safe” by the FDA for children aged six and up. 

“Mercury vapor is absorbed by the lungs and passed to the rest of the body, particularly the brain, kidney, liver, lung, and gastrointestinal tract.” 

“Scientific research has related the mercury in dental amalgam to Alzheimer’s disease,  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), antibiotic resistance, autism spectrum disorders, autoimmune disorders/immunodeficiency, cardiovascular problems, chronic fatigue syndrome, hearing loss, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, reproductive dysfunction, and other health problems.” 

While the authority of public health safety deems these fillings safe, given the data and research on the correlation between mercury and developmental and degenerative disease, it may be wise to seek a dentist that limits their use of this harmful substance. 

Mercury is also commonly found in seafood due to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, spreading radioactive poison through the Pacific Ocean. 

While fish and shellfish have a lot of nutritional value, the cumulation of regularly consuming these foods may cause issues with development, and parents may want to avoid adding high mercury seafood to their children’s diets.

Chelation - Taking Out The Trash

How do we handle exposure to toxic heavy metals in our daily lives? The answer may be more simple than you think. Diet is key.

Our bodies are “magical” and have built-in detoxing processes. The process for removing heavy metals is called chelation (kee-lay-shun). 

Certain foods assist with chelation and eliminating toxic heavy metals by creating a bond to the metals and safely removing them. This Scientific World Journal publication discusses enhancing the heavy metal detoxification process.

An important chelator is an amino acid our body creates on its own called glutathione. When we assist our bodies with glutathione production, our bodies will naturally boost the chelation process. 

“The reduced form of glutathione protects cells from reactive oxygen species associated with heavy metals,” as well as helps our bodies with cell turnover and prevents oxidation.

Foods that assist in chelation and support glutathione production:

  • Fruits and vegetables high in fiber (passion fruit, pears, celery, etc.)
  • Foods high in sulfur (garlic, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Cilantro
  • Spirulina 
  • Chlorella
  • Pectin (lemons, fruit preserves, etc.)
  • Flax

Supplements that assist in chelation and support glutathione production:

  • Taurine
  • Methionine
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
  • Selenium


Although some metals are beneficial to one’s diet, there are known toxic heavy metals all around us, and we would be wise to practice on the side of caution when it comes to exposing our children to them. 

Although a controversial topic, some believe overexposure to certain heavy metals may lead to neurological regression, cognitive issues, and behavior problems and may cause some children to experience symptoms of ADHD, autism, and other neurological disorders. 

Research is still ongoing. 

With a diet high in beautiful fruits and vegetables and with the assistance of certain supplements, our bodies can eliminate these toxic heavy metals for good, and our bodies and  brains can heal.

Why not error on the side of caution?  And it does not hurt; we know healthy eating is better for our overall health. 

Stay empowerED,

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