As I was writing Saving Our Sons (February 2017) and just recently, as I am completing The Minds of Girls (January 2018), I’ve been receiving more and more emails about a topic I bring up wherever I travel: environmental neurotoxins. These neurotoxins affect children’s physical and mental health at cellular levels but we can’t see them—they are hidden neuro-stressors and can be very dangerous.
At a speaking engagement in the Midwest I shared a story of two of my counseling clients who took their children off plastics, went organic, and removed gluten from their family diet. Of their five children, two were having issues with depression and obesity. After their family changes, they saw positive results: weight loss and greater health for their daughter who had become obese, and a tapering of depression for the son they had become very worried about. After I told this story a couple came up to me and shared their similar story. Their daughter had become anxious and depressed at 9. Among the reasons for it, they had been told, could be a combination of adolescent onset hormonal biology and endocrine stress on that biology via neurotoxins. They removed plastics and went organic and saw a significant lessening of anxiety in their daughter.
Drastic family change like going organic may not be needed for every family, but if you have children in distress, and if you see no clear cause of the depression, anxiety, obesity, or other difficulty, I hope you will look closely at the neurotoxin research.
Philippe Grandjean is the co-author of Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development – and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation. He told the Huffington Post, “The world is facing a ‘silent pandemic’ of ‘chemical brain drain’. We have an ethical duty to protect the next generation, in particular–the next generation’s brains.”
Grandjean and study co-author Philip Landrigan note that since 2006, when they first published their results, things are getting even worse. The list of “confirmed developmental neurotoxins doubled in ten years.” At the top of the list of culprits: the plychlorinate biphenyla and bisphenol A in plastic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in fertilizer and food. These endocrine disrupting chemicals disrupt a child’s endocrine systems, the systems on which much of our children’s cellular and brain growth depends. The systems have cellular switches that need to be turned on and off for normal and healthy growth. As the endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastics and food attach to specific receptors in a child’s body and brain, they initiate a complex chain of events that impede correct cellular development and function. The endocrine disruptors keep many of our children’s neural switches off when they should be on and on when they should be off.
Think of each hormone inside each child’s cell as an artist at work – a sculptor who chisels at a blob of rock to create a Rodin statue. Natural gene expression, excited and assisted in a natural environment, is that chiseling, that sculpting, that art. Endocrine disruptors interfere with the artistic process because the disrupter can erase a natural function in some moments and in other moments, alter an action of cells completely. As the disruptor attaches to its unique receptor, it launches a different set of events in body and brain than what was naturally intended for this child. We don’t end up with Rodin’s The Thinker – we end up with a cellular statue without an arm, knee, feet, hands, eyes, or other essential parts of the body.
And the disruptors and toxins don’t just attack your child – they attacked you and your reproductive partner before your child was born, affecting sperm motility in dad and reproductive cells in mom’s ovaries. Many brain disorders such as autism, anorexia/bulimia, ADD/ADHD, obesity, depression, and anxiety, are linked back to these neurotoxin/sperm and egg issues. My wife, Gail and I, as well as many of our counseling clients, have gone organic during our children’s upbringings. It was not easy (nor inexpensive), but we put this kind of protection very high on our list because we were immersed in the research.
I hope you will consider doing this, too. Environmental neurotoxins, especially in the U.S., have become such a severe detriment to our children’s health scientist David Geary, author of Evolution of Sex Differences in Trait- and Age-Specific Vulnerabilities (2016), added “man-made toxins” to his list of major causative factors in human distress. Geary called previously studied “natural stressors” (disease, famine, war, and death) “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.” The fifth apocalyptic horsemen in our genes is environmental neurotoxicity.
Here is a short list of “fifth horsemen” to look for and remove, as much as possible, from your children’s lives.
*Poisons in pesticides and fertilizer like chlorpyrifos that directly impede fetal and infant brain development. Stay away from this stuff if you are pregnant, planning to have children, or have children around you.
*Endocrine disruptors mentioned earlier—they appear not just in food and beverages but in lotions, too.
*Chemicals in medications like acetaminophen taken by mothers during pregnancy that can create mutations in the fetus and lead to later behavioral and cognitive problems in the child (this research was published in 2016 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, if you want to check it out).
*BPA (Bisphenol-A) and Phthalates in plastics, noted earlier, that can poison your children, especially when your children drink from plastic bottles that have become hot (the chemicals “leak” into the beverage from the heated bottle).
*Sugar itself which can be a poison to our cells if eaten in excess (a powerful book on this subject is The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes in 2017).
*Even products that we may want our adolescents to use such as birth control pills can affect some genetic structures with depressive symptoms. A study published in 2016 that tracked more than one million women between 15 and 35 on hormonal birth control found a 40% increased risk of depression. Birth control is generally a good thing, but it is also crucial to study all options.
*Allergies and intolerances to normal foods (e.g. wheat, dairy, yeast, tomatoes, etc.).
Parents, teachers, grandparents, and all of us in the grass roots must take up the cause of protection against environmental neurotoxins in our own homes, schools, and community environments. This fifth horseman is no joke. Though unseen most of the time, this stressor may be more dangerous than we can ever fully realize. The family I mentioned earlier is just one of many—if you have a child in distress, I hope you’ll get Saving Our Sons or The Minds of Girls or find other resources that will help you delve deeply into this brain-danger that we all, unfortunately, have in common in our everyday lives.