Could Plastics Be Causing ADHD? Along with Asthma, Breast Cancer and More?

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A scientific paper to be presented April 8 at a medical conference shows that high levels of a plastic-softening chemical called phthalate in the blood may be linked to inattention and hyperactivity behaviors in children.

The researchers tested blood levels in unexposed children and in children who spent time in a hospital PICU and had one to 12 medical tubes inserted. They found a “clear match between previously hospitalized children’s long-term neurocognitive test results and their individual exposure to the phthalate DEHP during intensive care.” DEHP levels were not detectable in healthy children, but were “sky-high” — up to 18 times higher — in hospitalized children.

What does this mean for your child who may never have been seriously ill?

Perhaps plastic products all around your family could be causing or worsening your child’s problems with focus, distractibility, irritability and high energy levels. (Now, I also would not discount the effect of certain styles of parenting, lack of exercise, over-exposure to technology, developmental trauma, and lack of secure emotional attachment as causes of ADHD. Addressing these in a clinical setting can significantly improve a child’s behaviors.)

Phthalates are added to plastics such as PVC to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. Plasticizers contribute 10-60% of the total weight of plasticized products.

Most Americans tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have metabolites of multiple phthalates in their urine.

Besides being found in medical catheters and blood transfusion devices, phthalates are found in a huge number of products including in the coatings of pharmaceutical pills and nutritional supplements! Fatty foods such as milk, butter, and meats are a major source. Other sources are:

  • shower curtains
  • mini blinds
  • wallpaper
  • vinyl upholstery
  • adhesives
  • food containers (especially coded “3” for recycling)
  • plastic food wrap
  • cleaning materials
  • plastic packaging
  • personal-care products such as perfume, eye shadow, shampoo, moisturizer, nail polish, liquid soap, and hair spray
  • insecticides
  • vinyl floor tiles
  • plastic plumbing pipes
  • adhesives and glues
  • waxes
  • printing inks and coatings
  • textiles
  • building caulk
  • paint pigments

Prior to 1999 phthalates were even used in baby pacifiers, rattles and teethers.

Even infant lotion, infant powder, and infant shampoo have been associated with increased infant urine concentrations of phthalate metabolites. Phthalates are not stable, so they can be in the air, water, or food. They can be inhaled from dust in homes that contains phthalates and this is linked to higher levels of asthma and allergies in children.

Phthalates have long been associated with changes in hormone levels, birth defects including lower cognitive performance, and cancer.

Women may be at higher risk for potential adverse health effects, including breast cancer, due to increased cosmetic use.

There may also be a link between the obesity epidemic and endocrine disruption and metabolic interference caused by plastic products.

It is becoming increasingly clear that reducing the number of plastics in your home is important for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.

Here are more tips and a helpful chart of plastics to avoid.

The NIH has a comprehensive website for many types of toxins.

 

Connecting Shame, the Fear Response and ADHD

In my last blog I wrote about shame being the true underlying emotion behind most angry outbursts and behaviors. People feel embarrassed so they lash out with anger, rather than admitting or expressing their real emotion of shame.

This connection is very clear in children labeled with “ADHD” and “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” These children are considered to lack the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate. They are impulsive, easily distracted and often hyperactive. Yet if you listen to what they say and understand the neuroscience of the fear response, you can easily see the emotional roots of shame to their reactions. As I’ve written before, these “disorders” are not mental illnesses, just the normal “fear response.”

Just yesterday in therapy one young man described the reasons he often leaves school or is truant. He reported that when he gets frustrated or fears failure on schoolwork, he doesn’t like that feeling. So to manage the shame (he didn’t label it as that) he daydreams, plays with his phone, or zones out. (This is the “avoidance” fear response.) Then if pushed by the teacher or under time pressure of a test, he bolts from the classroom or just doesn’t show up to school on that day (the “flight” fear response.)

His shame and embarrassment at potentially failing lead him to unthinkingly react with fear. Many kids with this “fear hijack” quickly react with the “fight” response by getting angry and being “oppositional.”

Of course, this young man has a mother who has been depressed and anxious all his life, he witnessed domestic violence, and has had other family instabilities. Childhood traumas slow or stunt the development of the cognitive areas of the brain, leaving the emotional or reactive parts of the brain in charge. He’s also had this fear response modeled by parents who became violent with each other. No surprise that when he feels threatened emotionally he is more likely to react with unthinking responses or impulsivity, rather than thoughtful problem-solving with an eye to the consequences.

Afterward he can state the consequences to his behaviors, as is usually the case with these impulsive kids. Yet in that survival mode of the fear hijack his cognitive abilities are narrowed and not in control.

Of course, his early traumas also make learning and memory development more difficult for his brain, leading to a label as “learning disabled.” So his family life has primed him for a life of misbehavior and academic failure that others will label as dysfunctional or maybe even criminal. All because his brain never had the chance to develop and to learn a thinking approach rather than an emotional response.

When you understand this connection, it becomes extremely obvious that what we need is not therapy and drugs (absolutely not!) for these children, but parenting classes and therapy for their parents years prior. It was their parents’ inability to manage shame in emotionally mature ways that started this whole mess.

Dogs and Kids: It’s NOT how they were raised

This article has good information on our attitudes toward dogs who come to us with a “past.” Sadly, dogs who have been in fight rings, abused, neglected  or otherwise “raised wrong” are often rejected as adoptable because people have been told that behavioral issues can’t be changed. In other words, people believe the myth that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

But that myth is exactly that — wrong! Dogs can be trained, no matter their age,  and that is because they live in the moment. They can forget past experiences if the owner does not allow those negative memories to bring on feelings of guilt, pity or a presumption that the dog is forever “bad.”

As I often find, the exact same is true for people, especially for children who have been labeled as “bad.” My experience as a family therapist is that once parents have a few problems with a child, they label this child a “problem child” and seek professional help. (When all he really needs is a calm, firm Pack Leader parent!)

Then once parents talk to a school counselor or psychiatrist, they usually blindly accept the “diagnosis” that their child has been given — ADHD, ODD, depressed, bipolar. And they believe the lie that this “diagnosis” is a lifelong “illness” that must be medicated and that is the only possible “treatment;” there is no “cure.”

This biomedical model for behavioral problems must be discarded as incorrect and harmful. There has never been a biological cause found for any of these “mental disorders.” These diagnoses are mere behavioral and emotional concerns, not biomedical “illnesses.” And the child’s misbehavior can be traced directly to improper parenting.

But the good news is that if these are behavioral problems, that means they can be changed! Just like dogs, children like to live in the moment. They can move past unhealthy behavior patterns if parents do so first. Pack Leader parents know that each day is a new day and they have to discard negative presumptions about a child and bring a positive, forward thinking attitude to each situation.

Dogs and people very often sense the attitudes being sent their way and live up — or down — to those opinions. Live in the moment.