Heavy Metals and Behavioral Disorders in Children | Chris Kresser

Heavy Metals and Behavioral Disorders in Children

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An epidemic of childhood behavioral disorders is sweeping the globe. Research suggests that heavy metal toxicity may be one of the underlying causes of childhood behavioral disorders, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and tics. Read on to learn about the relationship between heavy metals and behavior, the primary sources of heavy metal exposure, and why detoxification may be beneficial in the treatment of childhood behavioral disorders. 

Heavy metals in kids
Child behavior disorders are becoming more prevalent in today's society. Could heavy metal detox for kids become necessary? istockphoto.com/Juanmonino

Behavioral Disorders: A Pandemic Disabling Our Children

It is normal for children to be energetic and occasionally distracted, upset, or argumentative. However, when these behaviors become disruptive and cause harm to the child or others, a diagnosis of a behavioral disorder may be made. Recent research indicates that one in six children in the United States is afflicted with developmental and behavioral disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), anxiety disorder, learning disorders, and conduct disorders. (1)

According to neurology experts Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan in a 2014 report in The Lancet Neurology, “a silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity” is disabling children around the world and contributing to the meteoric rise of ADHD, ASD, and other behavioral disorders. (2) What is responsible for the rapidly rising rates of behavioral disorders in children? Research indicates that heavy metal exposure promotes neurodevelopmental toxicity and may be one of the underlying causes of childhood behavioral disorders.

Mercury

Childhood exposure to mercury occurs primarily through the consumption of seafood and dental amalgams. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that directly passes through the blood–brain barrier and accumulates in brain tissue and the spinal cord, disrupting neurological function.

Children are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of mercury, and a growing body of research indicates that mercury exposure is associated with an increased risk of behavioral disorders.

  • Prenatal mercury exposure, measured through samples of cord blood, is associated with ADHD symptoms in children. (3)
  • A systematic review of 44 studies concluded that mercury levels were significantly higher in the whole blood, red blood cells, and brains of autistic subjects compared to controls. (4)
  • Mercury content in ambient air is linked to an increased prevalence of autism in children. (5)
  • Even low levels of mercury are harmful to the developing brain and have been associated with learning disabilities. (6)

Heavy metals may play a role in your child’s behavioral disorder. Learn how to reduce your exposure.

Lead

Lead is a pervasive environmental toxin that adversely affects the developing nervous system in children. Children may be exposed to lead through paint chips, dust, and water pipes in homes built prior to 1978, as well as dirt, drinking water, and air pollution. (7)

  • In animal studies, prenatal exposure to lead has been found to alter synapses in the brain, impairing neurotransmission and learning behaviors. (8)
  • Children who grew up near the location of a former lead refinery were found to have a higher risk of ADHD. (9)
  • Even very low levels of lead have adverse effects on the brain and behavior in children. Blood lead levels less than 1.8µg/dL, well below the CDC’s recommended threshold of 5µg of lead per dL of blood, are associated with an increased risk of ADHD. This suggests that there is no safe limit for lead exposure in children. (10)

Manganese

Manganese is a heavy metal that is required by the body in small amounts to create antioxidant enzymes, for the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids, and to promote bone development and wound healing. It can be found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, tea, and legumes. However, manganese toxicity can occur when manganese dust from sources such as chemical manufacturing and welding is inhaled or when high levels of manganese are present in drinking water.

  • Manganese exposure has been linked to ADHD. (11)
  • Children exposed to high levels of manganese through drinking water have been found to experience diminished intellectual function and behavioral problems. (12, 13, 14)

Aluminum

Aluminum is a pervasive heavy metal used as a food additive and in metal cookware, beverage cans, antacids, and antiperspirants. Aluminum has been associated with declining performance in attention, memory, and learning, as well as a number of other health concerns. (15)

Arsenic

Arsenic has become a common contaminant in soil and groundwater due to its prevalence as a byproduct of industrial manufacturing processes. Arsenic is also present at high levels in conventionally raised poultry, which is fed arsenic-containing drugs, and in rice from India and areas outside of California. Urine arsenic levels have been associated with decreased IQ in children. (16)

How Heavy Metals Harm the Brain

Heavy metals pass through the blood–brain barrier and accumulate in brain tissue. Once in the brain, they harm neurological function through several mechanisms.

  • Heavy metals displace essential minerals such as zinc and iron that are required for neurotransmitter production. (17)
  • Heavy metals induce oxidative stress, which reduces neuronal plasticity and impairs learning and behavior. (18)
  • Aluminum accumulates in immune cells of the brain. This may provoke an inflammatory immune response that ultimately affects neurological function and behavior. (19)

Heavy Metal Testing

Heavy metal testing is a controversial topic because each of the currently available methods of testing—hair, urine, and blood—has some drawbacks.

  • Hair testing. Hair testing has become a popular method for assessing heavy metal status. However, using hair testing alone, we cannot know for certain whether a high level of a metal in the hair reflects a significant body burden of that metal or indicates that the patient is efficiently eliminating the metal through the hair and thus has a low level of it in the body.
  • Urine testing. Urine heavy metal provocation tests, which use a chelating agent such as DMSA to provoke a release of heavy metals into the circulation, present problems similar to those with hair testing; it is possible that a metal may be high in the urine because the body is efficient at excreting it, or it may reflect a high body burden of the metal. Another problem is that reference ranges for provoked urine results have not been developed or validated.
  • Blood testing. Blood testing is problematic for assessing heavy metal status because heavy metals typically circulate in the blood for only a short time before becoming sequestered in tissues.

While each of these testing methods is faulty when used alone, combining a couple of techniques may be a more accurate way to assess heavy metal toxicity. For example, you could do a provoked and an unprovoked urine test, or a hair test and a provoked urine test. Combining two tests may paint a more accurate picture of the body’s total heavy metal burden.

How to Avoid Heavy Metals

Reducing exposure to heavy metals may lower the risk of childhood developmental disorders. Pregnant women should be conscientious about heavy metal exposure because heavy metals cross the placenta and can affect the brain of the developing fetus. Parents with young children also need to be careful since the brain is especially sensitive to toxic insults during childhood.

There are a handful of steps you can take to reduce exposure to heavy metals:

  • Don’t use aluminum pans for cooking. Choose stainless steel or enameled cast iron instead.
  • Choose seafood low in mercury. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is a helpful tool for learning which types of seafood are highest and lowest in mercury. Wild-caught Alaskan salmon, wild-caught Pacific sardines, and pole-caught albacore tuna are among the lower-mercury choices; Atlantic cod, halibut, shark, and swordfish tend to be much higher in mercury.
  • Filter your drinking and bathing water. Invest in a high-quality drinking water filtration system that removes heavy metals.
  • Choose organic chicken. Conventionally raised chicken is high in arsenic.
  • Limit intake of brown rice and white rice from India and areas outside of California. Rice from these regions tends to be high in arsenic. White rice from California is lower in arsenic and thus a safer option. See my article “Arsenic in Rice: How Concerned Should You Be?” for more information.
  • Prevent heavy metal pollution from entering your home. If you have children and work in manufacturing, construction, or another profession that involves heavy metal exposure, bathe and change clothes immediately after work to avoid contaminating your home with heavy metals in dust, dirt, etc.

Strategies for the Treatment of Heavy Metal Toxicity in Children

Research indicates that detoxification and excretory pathways responsible for detoxifying heavy metals may be impaired in children with behavioral disorders. (20) However, by enhancing detoxification pathways, replenishing essential minerals and vitamins, and supplementing with probiotics, it may be possible to alleviate heavy metal toxicity and reduce symptoms in children with behavioral disorders.

Support the glutathione pathway
The glutathione pathway is a crucial system in the body for detoxifying mercury and other heavy metals. Glutathione, often referred to as the “master antioxidant,” binds to heavy metals and facilitates their removal from the body. Research has found that ASD patients have lower glutathione levels than controls, a problem that may promote the retention of heavy metals in the body. (21) Oral and transdermal glutathione supplementation raises plasma glutathione levels in the blood of autistic children, an effect that may facilitate heavy metal detoxification. (22)

Replenish essential minerals and vitamins
When the body is deficient in essential minerals, heavy metals preferentially bind to sites normally occupied by those minerals. Replenishing the body with essential minerals can, therefore, help prevent heavy metal accumulation and increase metal excretion.

  • Selenium. Selenium, an essential mineral that serves as a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, may benefit children with autism. (23)
  • Zinc. Another essential mineral, zinc, alleviates heavy metal toxicity by competing with heavy metals for binding sites on cells and enzymes. Research indicates that zinc replenishment is beneficial for kids with autism and ADHD. (24) To replenish zinc levels, I suggest feeding your children zinc-rich foods, such as oysters, rather than zinc supplements, which may not be safe for children over the long term.
  • Iron. Iron competes with heavy metals for intestinal absorption, and iron sufficiency downregulates transporters that bring heavy metals into intestinal cells and the systemic circulation. Restoration of iron levels has been found to relieve ADHD symptoms in children. (25) I recommend feeding your kids organ meats and shellfish to ensure optimal iron levels.
  • Vitamin B. Replenishment of vitamin B6 may also alleviate heavy metal toxicity. B6 supplementation reduces the accumulation of lead in body tissues. When combined with magnesium, it has been found to improve symptoms of ADHD. (26, 27) The top dietary sources of vitamin B6 are liver and other organ meats, egg yolks, nuts, bananas, and avocados. (28)

The power of probiotics
Several studies indicate that probiotics alleviate heavy metal toxicity. Research indicates that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. plantarum, commonly found in probiotic supplements and fermented foods, protect against heavy metal toxicity. (29, 30) These findings also suggest that a healthy gut microbiome may protect against heavy metal toxicity.

Chelation Therapy: Use with Caution

Chelation therapy involves the use of synthetic chelating agents such as CaNa2 EDTA and DMSA and may be necessary to remove certain metals like lead. However, there are significant concerns about the safety and efficacy of chelation. Chelation depletes essential minerals and has the potential to redistribute heavy metals within the body.

These effects may be especially harmful to children. For this reason, chelation should only be done under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. Avoidance of heavy metals and the use of nutritional detoxification strategies such as those mentioned above may be a gentler and safer method for reducing a child’s heavy metal burden.

39 Comments

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  1. Iodine (and its co-factors) like Iodoral chelates and boosts thyroid function. Proposed by Dr. Brownstein and Abraham (deceased). It’s testable and worth trying. Pretty big deal.

  2. Hi Chris, I came across your name and page through your appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience and the child you referenced from the first chapter of your book fit my 11 year old brother to a T. My parents have tried multiple doctors only wanting to prescribe ADHD meds as the cure. I am honestly very disappointed in them and was so relieved to hear you bring this up as it gives me hope for Tyler. You are located in Nevada and we are in Florida so it would be tough to apply for a consultation. Is there anyone in the central Florida area you recommend we speak with regarding this that could provide a comparable treatment? Any info would help
    Thanks
    David Holbrook

  3. Yes I just found out my child 8 with ASD & ADHD had elevated aluminium in his blood. He also had low thyroid and vit B1, B6, B12, zink, magnesium and vitamin D. He’s now on T3/T4 for thyroid, he is supplemented and yes, also for MTHFR and gets methyl. folate and avoiding folate in food. Got vit. IV, looking into gut healing infra read/ infrared saunas, making cilantro juice/with chlorella using Fiji water with Silica, looking into biosil tablets with Silica .. if it can be used for children and I’m looking into what is called TRS. Its a puzzle !

  4. On the subject of a lack of reliable blood testing.
    What about the MELISA test developed by Prof. Vera Stejskal? The test results are irrefutable. I took it in the UK and know it is available here in Norway.

  5. Has anyone seen a child get a quarter size spot in their scalp, where skin looks dry and hair falls out, from metal poisoning?

  6. It was recommended to me to due quicksilver detox quen to remove my sky high levels of mercury. Anyone have any experience with this protocol or has success with a different protocol.

  7. I removed 5 of my 10 amalgams at a regular dentist in 2015 and started losing my hair rapidly within 2 weeks, gained awful back/chest/shoulder acne and had severe emotional disturbances that year. Suddenly all my lifetime chronic symptoms made sense and I was able to make the connection. Removed the rest of my amalgams safely at a holistic dentist and doing AC chelation protocol, getting much better. I didn’t realise how scary a filling in a tooth could be and I feel so hurt and disappointed with medical profession…You are supposed to take care of us..

    • “I removed 5 of my 10 amalgams at a regular dentist in 2015 and started losing my hair rapidly within 2 weeks, gained awful”

      It is exceptionally harmful because amalgam dust inevitably gets into your lungs and spends the next x weeks/months/years heavily vaporising from all those surfaces, producing very high intake. If you have amalgams removed competently then you have a prompt improvement in health till after a few months it goes bad again as the body changes from “lock down” mode to “let it flow” mode (so your blood merc goes up). The main thing is to have enough selenomethionine. In your case probably several times the “safe” dose.

    • “You are supposed to take care of us … ”

      Why do dentists still use amalgam? Because it’s easier to work with and gets the job done and they do not believe it harmful.

      These are the same reasons gadolinium, a toxic heavy metal, is still widely used as a contrast agent for MRIs. When I asked the M.D. radiologist why they continue to inject toxic heavy metal into patient’s blood, they responded ‘because it gives clearer images’ and more testing was being done to ‘prove’ gadolinium is safe (despite the medical fact that heavy metals are toxic to human tissue).

      In the minds of many practitioners, these ‘virtues’ = the end justifies the means and rise above the Hippocratic Oath of “Do No Harm” and “the means justifies the end”.

      Most in the medical & pharma industries cannot be trusted to do what’s best for the patient because … the patient is not the highest priority and may be left out of the equation entirely while trying to get their jobs done.

      • In the uk, any medic who does something different or who questions standard “guidelines” practice is in danger of losing their career. And a struck off doctor will never get any other job, and end up destitute and in due course homeless. Evidence or reasoning or patient safety don’t come into it.

        • Medical “schools” in “universities” are one of the worst scams in the universe. You waste five years of your life being inculcated into the Cult of Pseudomedicine, and it’s not easy to get out safely thereafter, if ever.

    • There are no “multivitamins” that are any good for anyone. Seek out the separate ones instead. You need a big amount of vit c for a start.

  8. I am an Occupational Therapist seeing mostly pediatric patients and cannot tell you how many of my kiddos I am convinced have some sort of heavy metal toxicity. Sadly there’s not much I can do that will be reimbursable by insurance or that parents will be responsive to follow through on. So sad!

    • Rachel said:
      “Sadly there’s not much I can do”

      Rachel, many of us find ourselves in this situation. After years of trying to get the NHS to help with removing my dental amalgams (which would cost several thousands and I’ve never had a “career” to earn any income), I started legal action in the Royal Courts of so-called Justice.

      Despite huge work in presenting a clear and sound case, it was quietly struck out in a back room with a pile of cheap lies. Tellingly both the judge and the uk regime’s barrister refused my request to audio-record the hearing – and insisted they “didn’t have to provide a reason” – and indeed the reason why they were so shy soon became obvious, with this “judge” constantly shouting me down with nonsenses as soon as my turn came to present my own case.

      And any comments about mercury toxicity evidence rapidly get removed from main-stream media.

      I suggest that in this context, there needs to be a fully sound (but approachable) presentation of the damning evidence on the subject, given adequate publicity. I have written a substantial book of which a main theme is the mercury toxicity epidemic and its cover-up – titled “Experts Catastrophe”.

      In consequence of decades of untreated mercury poisoning disability I have little money and almost nothing by way of social network or the normal tokens of “credibility”. If enough people were to assist in getting this book prominently visible to enough others, then I suggest that it could force open the lid on this gigantic abuse (and also on the bogusness of mainstream medical generally).

      For now, some free chapters can be read at http://www.pseudoexpertise.com . Chapter 3 is the main evidence concerning the epidemic of harm from mercury. There is more and more evidence that I would include in the book but it is already inconveniently “obese” at 120,000 words, 36 graphs, and hundreds of scientific references. (People aren’t willing to pay more for a bigger book, it just makes less convenient, more costly, and more “daunting” to read.)

      It is only once the reality of the epidemic of mercury poisoning gains significant acknowledgment, only then can many doors be forced open, in courts of “justice” and elsewhere.

      • Robin, I admire the huge effort you have help to pioneer in the U.K and even here in the U.S. I will be happy to review your book and recommend it to others! This issue such an intimidating and often infuriating undertaking, but so important and we do have to start somewhere to begin holding practitioners and BigPharma accountable! Best of luck!

  9. I think we are exposed to those heavy metals above and we’re not even aware from it. We can only determine seafoods (since we can get mercury on seafoods) as edible and not edible. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why we scour the internet to find useful articles like this one. Thanks Chris!

  10. What if kids have not had vaccines and don’t have metal fillings and don’t eat food from aluminum pans? Would you still pursue testing?

    • “What if kids [……] don’t have metal fillings”

      In respect of autism (and possibly more), the inference is that the mercury comes not from the babies’ teeth but as vapor from their parents’s or carers’ teeth when they speak to them, and especially in (draughproofed) unventilated rooms.

  11. So impressed you are talking about this, Chris. Keep up the good work- our children’s future depends on it. You’re a true hero.

  12. Copper toxicity is also a cause of tic disorder. The Pill causes the body to retain copper. Copper blocks the absorbtion of zinc. A mother can pass high copper levels on to their babies. Copper levels naturally rise during pregnancy and if the mother does not have enough zinc this can cause problems including premature birth.
    Heavy metals and mineral levels can be detected using an Oligoscan. Much easier and quicker than hair analysis.
    Homeopathic potency chords of the metal you want to detox work well.

  13. Why would children end up with dental amalgam in their teeth if they were eating a healthy diet and following a decent oral hygiene programme?

    For me the big question is once the damage is done to the body, by any heavy metal, can it ever be undone?

    • “Why would children end up with dental amalgam in their teeth if they were eating a healthy diet and following a decent oral hygiene programme?”

      Firstly, not all children do eat a healthy diet and decent program. There is a lot of confusion about the subject (see “Cure tooth decay” book.)

      Secondly, in MY OWN CASE! – when a child some dentist installed 20 amalgams in my teeth even though I DID NOT NEED them – because the system paid dentists per filling and crook dentist just wanted to earn more with this compliant trusting victim.
      (sorry re CAPitals, would prefer an italic option here)

      Also, note that the autism is caused by vapour from the parents/carers’s amalgams rather than any the child might have.

      “For me the big question is once the damage is done to the body, by any heavy metal, can it ever be undone?”

      This “damage” concept is a nonsense from Paul Offit – see chapter 6 at http://www.pseudoexpertise.com
      In reality mercury toxicity works in various ways. Almost all mercury symptoms completely reverse when the mercury is removed (or neutralised by Se). This includes the many neuro and also cancers. But you aren’t going to get the years back nor are the effects of YEARS/DECADES of degradation of various glands going to “just” reverse due to removing the mercury. Examples of this would include the damage to kidney and thyroid, which could be recovered from but not instantly and if too bad then maybe not at all.

      I myself have recently recovered (lost the symptoms) from FORTY EIGHT YEARS of mercury poisoning. Previously I was so spasticated I couldn’t remember the beginning of a sentence before getting to its end, barely able to think let alone read or write. Rather obviously I have recovered from (the many) such symptoms but also it doesn’t instantly restore me to being a teenager again, or even just a healthy person of equal “age”.

  14. And what about the pervasive use in MRI imaging of another heavy metal, gadolinium? Consider all the women w/hi risk breast cancer who are directed to have this toxic substance injected EVERY YEAR (having breast MRIs w/gadolinium contrast is part of the prevention guidelines)!

    This heavy metal is injected directly into one’s bloodstream to provide ‘clearer images’ despite what the medical community knows how bad it is for heavy metals to contact living tissue. So in the case of gadolinium use, the medical community adheres to ‘the end justifies the means’ instead of ‘the means justifying the end’ and ignores the Hippocratic Oath of ‘do no harm’.

  15. Iodine is also a good natural chelator. It can displace most heavy metals within a day of intake while also serving as a nutrient. It is one of the few compounds that can also displace fluoride (thus why some people feel bad when taking iodine, as all those toxins run in your blood to be filtered)

  16. I can’t comment on the other heavy metals, but in respect of mercury, by far the main source is not fish (unless you have shark and whale as your main food), but rather is mercury vapor emitting from dental amalgam. Research shows that this has been the cause of huge epidemics of not only autism but also the main cause of the mental/CFS/fibromyagia/MS/MCS/etc, indeed the main cause of chronic disability nowadays. The research can be read at Chapter 3 at http://www.pseudoxpertise.com And you can see for yourself the cheap lies used to suppress this research, in Chapters 4 and 5.

    I agree with Dr Kresser’s cautions about chelation – especially lipoic acid must only be used in accordance with AH Cutler’s protocols. A valuable indeed crucial anti-mercury factor is selenium, preferably as selenomethionine.

    • That’s not true, look at the CDC website. They list all the ingredients. The flu shot and others still have it.

    • Mercury is also used in the vats during the processing of vaccines. There is no requirements to label its presence because it remains in a very low level but it is still there! (similar to gluten free labeling – in the US you can legally label a food gluten free as long as the levels found are less than 20 ppb).

      The issue with the remaining mercury is that when it is added to the current aluminum adjuvant , the resulting effect us mathematically magnified in effect. 1 +1 does NOT equal 2. This is chemistry. Mercury + aluminium + polisorbate 80 opens the blood barrier of the brain. This is unconscionable.

      • From the website you linked to:

        “WHO has closely monitored scientific evidence relating to the use of thiomersal as a vaccine preservative for over 10 years, in particular through its independent expert advisory group, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. The Committee has consistently reached the same conclusion: there is no evidence to suggest that the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses a health risk. Other expert groups (for example the U.S. Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the United Kingdom Committee on Safety of Medicine, and the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products) have reached similar conclusions.”

        So let us stop the fear mongering related to vaccines.

        • “So let us stop the fear mongering related to vaccines.”

          But a lot of people don’t trust such official declarations. And with good reason considering all the official assertions that dental mercury is harmless and so on. But you can see for yourself the actual facts of whether vaccines caused the autism increase, in Chapter 6 at http://www.pseudoexpertise.com And Chapter 3 there shows what really caused the increase.

        • “…the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. The Committee has consistently reached the same conclusion: there is no evidence to suggest that the amount of thiomersal used in vaccines poses a health risk…”

          Just wanted to share this with you:
          https://worldmercuryproject.org/news/vaccine-program-betrayal-public-trust-institutional-corruption-part-1-7/

          In this article the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is listed as part “an elaborate web of collaborating institutional partnerships” that “control vaccine safety assessments, control the science of vaccines and control the scientific and mass channels of information about vaccines”.

          The above link is “Part One of a seven-part series of Vera Sharav’s in-depth exposé of the complex and widespread corruption that exists in the vaccination program. Her investigation has uncovered decades-long fraudulent activity that has permeated the vaccine industry. Sharav’s research is a must-read by those in our community because it explains the intricate groundwork that has led us to the debacle we are now living with – an epidemic of sick children.”