ADHD: Alarms Raised; Risks Ignored

November 19, 2019

ADHD: Alarms Raised; Risks Ignored

By the Children’s Health Defense Team

When the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1952, many of today’s most common pediatric diagnoses had yet to be invented. “Attention deficit disorder” (ADD) did not make its first DSM appearance until 1980, when the APA established it as a pediatric neurobehavioral disorder characterized by problems with inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity. (ADD’s DSM precursor, “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood,” focused mostly on excessive motor activity.) In 1987, the APA replaced ADD with “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD), which is now the most commonly diagnosed childhood neurodevelopmental disorder. The most recent DSM also allows for a dual ADHD-autism diagnosis, recognizing that anywhere from one-fifth to one-half of children with ADHD meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

How many American children currently have an ADHD diagnosis? Estimates range from a low of 5% (cited in the last DSM) to as high as 16% (cited in a 2015 study of elementary-school children). Prevalence is at least twice as high for boys as girls; by high school, about one in five boys has an ADHD diagnosis versus one in 11 girls. Community studies place the male-to-female ratio closer to four to one.

Prevalence has increased dramatically over time. From 2003 to 2011, according to CDC research, ADHD diagnoses rose by 42% among children and adolescents ages 4-17, translating into an average annual increase of 5%. Another group of researchers analyzed national survey data over an even longer period of time—two decades—and reported a steady rise in ADHD rates (again in 4-17 year-olds) since 1997; overall prevalence went from 6.1% in the late 1990s to over 10% by 2016 (14% versus 6.3% for boys and girls, respectively, in 2016). This “consistent upward trend” held true “across subgroups by age, sex, race/ethnicity, family income, and geographic regions,” indicating a “continuous increase in the prevalence of diagnosed ADHD among US children and adolescents.”

While acknowledging that genetics likely play a role, few dispute that environmental factors have a lot to do with ADHD’s hijacking of so many young children’s lives. Recent studies have zeroed in on culprits that include lead and other heavy metals, fluoride, pesticides and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Heavy metals

It is well established that “excessive metals are detrimental to neurodevelopmental processes and have neurotoxic effects that impair cognitive function.” Research from the U.S., Mexico, China, eastern Europe and elsewhere points to strong associations between heavy metals and ADHD symptoms. The majority of studies have focused on the risks of lead exposure. For example, a Boston-based study of almost 1500 mother-infant pairs found that elevated blood lead levels in early childhood increased the risk of ADHD by 66%, particularly in boys—and nearly 9% of the children had elevated lead levels.

Researchers also have linked ADHD risks to other metals, including mercury, cadmium, antimony and manganese. Of concern is the “growing evidence that co-exposure to multiple metals can result in increased neurotoxicity compared to single-metal exposure, in particular during early life.”


Accumulating research is making it more difficult for public health officials to deny that fluoride has neurotoxic effects on cognition and behavior. Studies show that neurotoxic impacts readily result from the levels of fluoride exposure that North American children typically encounter in municipal water supplies.

In studies published this year in JAMA Pediatrics and Environment International, Canadian researchers reported:

  • A strong association between maternal exposure to higher fluoride levels during pregnancy and lower IQ scores in children, even among women exposed to “optimally fluoridated water”; and
  • A strong association between fluoride in tap water and an increased risk of ADHD symptoms and diagnosis, especially among adolescents.

Another recent study of Mexican children between 6 and 12 years of age—funded in part by the U.S. government—sought to characterize the association between prenatal fluoride exposure and outcomes that included ADHD symptoms. Study strengths included extensive longitudinal follow-up as well as the capture of “high quality individual biomarker exposure across multiple developmental time points” and “detailed assessment of ADHD-like behaviors.” The researchers found an unequivocal association between higher prenatal fluoride exposure and behavioral symptoms of inattention (though not ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity). Despite the U.S. government funding, the Mexico-based research went unmentioned by virtually all the major U.S. media.

Pesticides and endocrine disruptors

A number of pesticides and other chemicals in widespread use operate as endocrine disruptors, interfering with natural hormone function. Research has linked many of these substances to both ADHD and ASD via their disruption of thyroid hormone function and an important neurotransmitter called GABA. Endocrine disruptors specifically linked to an increased risk of ADHD include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorpyrifos, bisphenol-A (BPA), polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), certain phthalates and other chemicals. Prenatal and postnatal exposure to chlorpyrifos—a ubiquitous organophosphate insecticide—has likewise been linked to ASD, even at the lowest detectable doses  […]

© Nov 19 2019 Children’s Health Defense, Inc. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Children’s Health Defense, Inc. Want to learn more from Children’s Health Defense? Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. Your donation will help to support us in our efforts.

11 thoughts on “ADHD: Alarms Raised; Risks Ignored

  1. Glad you’re reporting on this. I think if municipal water were tested more regularly we would discover much more than we want to know about what’s in it.

    Tangentially, regarding ADHD, many if not most of these kids are forced to take amphetamines like Ritalin to be allowed in the classrooms. So while lead and other heavy metals may be linked to the ADHD itself, the treatment is maybe leading to later drug addiction. And now there’s adult ADHD which can guarantee a lifetime supply of amphetamines.

    Don’t you think it’s crazy that these drugs, which are required for some kids to be in school, must be prescribed every month, because they are so likely to be abused? Thus the kids must lose at least a half-day of school every month to keep their doctor’s appointments.


    • Good point, Katherine. Fortunately screening for lead poisoning is freely available. When children were referred to me for ADHD, I would get their blood tested first and refer them for chelation treatment to lower their lead levels. This is probably more appropriate than prescribing stimulants for them.

      When I first started practice in the early 80s, there was a federal mandate that all children with learning and behavioral disabilities be referred to special education. In the case of behavioral disabilities this usually meant a small self-contained classroom with a time out room. Even the DSM IV and V advised that stimulants should only be prescribed where behavioral management had failed. Now that public schools are so poorly funded, they don’t even try to manage ADHD kids behaviorally.

      I was fortunate to do my residency training with Dr Paul Wender, who was one of the pioneers in adult ADHD. It’s actually quite rare. Most kids with ADHD will either learn how to control their symptoms or develop atypical bipolar disorders in adulthood, which are more appropriately treated with mood stabilizers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t dealt with many kids, but in the few locum tenens places (public mental health) I did, no one had tested for lead levels. In retrospect , and based on what I’m seeing lately, it seems like checking lead levels should be standard protocol.

        My father was a public health doctor until he died in 1979, and one of the health departments projects was to screen for lead poisoning, because poor children were eating the peeling paint in their homes.

        Finally, do you think ADHD is being over-diagnosed?


        • Absolutely ADHD is being overdosed. Hyperactivity in children is most often a manifestation of anxiety. The most common cause, believe it or not, is marital conflict between the parents. When you address the conflict (through separation or marital counseling) and the hyperactivity vanishes.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You give yet another example of common sense, but of course that isn’t profitable in today’s “health care industry.” I suspect an unstable home life of any description can predispose a child to anxiety, as well as a whole host of other symptoms.


            • We should realize, those of us remaining who still have a few functioning brain cells, that we now live in a world devoid of common sense or empathy. Brutal, predatory capitalism has made everything about profit and those who deserve such profits are those who already have more than all others. Then follow the trickle down process through ever-tightening and fine-tuned filter systems. Every problem must have a profitable cure or it’s not a recognizable problem. Everything must be fixed either with machinery, technology or prescription drugs. As Jon Rappoport remarked some time back, if Big Pharma could have a mother’s touch declared a pathology it would do so in a heart beat. When a “cure” is patented, a problem to match the cure is invented and sold to the proper “authorities” to mandate the cure. Isn’t that what psychiatry is for?

              Liked by 1 person

              • Psychiatry has become what you say, but I entered it with ideals about the “power of the mind” and its “infinite potential.” That doesn’t sell, but now they’re studying psychedelic and recreational drugs like psilocybin and MDMA, ketamine and, of course, cannabis to find ways to patent the “infinite potential” of the mind.


                • Oops! I forgot you had degrees in that world. My interaction with that profession is about as low as it gets. I blame, and know, psychiatrists were primarily responsible for my mother’s suicide at 46 years of age. She fell into a bout of depression and they used her as a guinea pig. She didn’t speak the language, had no idea what was going on. They gave her a lobotomy and destroyed her personality. She died but no one went to jail for murder where those “consulting” doctors belonged. Mention any kind of fix from drugs to me and I see red, like instantly. We are equipped with much more than a “physical” immune system, we also have a conscience to explore our mind and spirit. NO ONE NEEDS DRUGS unless as a palliative. Under capitalism drugs mean one thing: massive profit. Under totalitarianism, they mean mind control. Under shamanism, they mean pacification. Drugs, as external agents serve no positive purpose in an intelligent, sentient, self aware entity. All is already inside our body and mind. If you want to enjoy the taste of a walnut you have to break the shell first, then extract the meat. It means work. Drugs don’t require effort, just willingness to be fooled, not fed.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Sha’Tara,
                    I remember your telling me your mother had a lobotomy and died from suicide, so I can well understand your contempt for psychiatry and psychiatrists. When I hear about things like that, I begin to sputter. How dare they treat people that way, but they justify it all in the name of “science.” That’s how they justified building the atomic bomb, too, and all the other travesties perpetrated in the name of progress.

                    I wish I had answers, but each answer only raises more questions. Exchanging thoughts with people like you is one of the high points of the internet. Thinking minds are way better than drugs.

                    Liked by 1 person

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