environmental medicine

Lead and ADHD

Let me be honest, we are exposed to more chemicals at sub-lethal doses than any generation in the history of the planet.  We are not receiving acute, high-level doses, like soldiers of World War I did with mustard gas, but this slow accumulation of metals, flame retardants and other chemicals is negatively effecting our health.  One reaction that I commonly see among my patients is to be afraid of the toxicity present in the environment.  I definitely am not a Doctor who believes that we should live in fear and be paralyzed in this world because everything is so "TOXIC".  What I do hope to achieve is to inspire people to take reasonable steps toward reducing their total body burden, as well as inspire those with the dream to take political action to create stricter regulations and laws for the use of these chemicals.  

Heavy metals are associated with a magnitude of diseases.  One disease that has risen quite dramatically in the past 20 years but appears to be stabilizing in its prevalence is ADHD.  ADHD displays a hyper-active type, an in-attentive type, and an impulsive type.   

Children are more susceptible to heavy metals as their ability to eliminate toxins is reduced.  This paper by huang et al. assessed blood lead levels in over 500 Mexican children.  The mean blood level for these children was 3.4 micrograms/deci-liter.  It's important to know that no blood level of lead is safe and any level of exposure can cause neurological symptoms like fatigue, sluggishness, learning delays, and more.  The research team showed that levels less than 5 micrograms/deci-Liter were positively associated with hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.    

This study was not an RCT and must be taken with a grain of salt.  Therefore we can't say that lead causes ADHD.  In reality it will be very hard to create such a study to prove this as it would be unethical to give lead to one group of children and no-lead to another and assess ADHD outcomes.  What we do have though is a tragedy that can provide us with insight.  The children of Flint, Michigan.   There are literally hundreds of stories to select from but the results all cluster around leads effects on the brain.

It's important to remember that lead is not meant to stay in the blood, but would be sequestered predominantly in the bones and other tissues to protect the body.  One thing that mobilizes lead from the body is sweat making exercise and sauna extremely effective solutions for reducing total body burden for the more chronic patient, however if a patient has much higher levels, specific treatment is indicated, including finding the exposure and stopping it.

If you have a loved one who you are concerned about regarding their neurological health, from ADHD to dementia, consider having them ask their doctor to check their blood lead levels as a simple heavy metal screen could be life-saving.  


Male Fertility, Sperm Strength and a Thought on Organic Food

For far too long woman have been blamed for 100% of infertility.  In reality we know that men can contribute up to 33% of infertility.  If you don't have healthy, strong swimmers, your ability to fertilize an egg will be less than optimal.  

So why do some men have less sperm counts than others, (quantity), and why do some men have more mobile well differentiated sperm (quality)?  Is the quantity and quality of sperm affected by lifestyle factors such as diet?  

Last week I came across a paper looking at a few of these questions.  This research team had a simple question.   Is consumption of fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residues associated with lower semen quality?

In this prospective cohort study, a group of 155 males provided about 2 sperm samples each.  When men provide sperm samples to the fertility clinic they are assessing the quantity and quality of the sperm samples.  

Unfortunately, this trial was not a Randomized Controlled trial where we provide food to one group that is high in pesticides and another that is low in pesticides.  That would actually be unethical to do.  (For more on unethical research see the Tuskegee Air Corp story.  Atrocious.)  Therefore we are left with incomplete data.  Men are filling out food surveys and questionnaires and we know that reporting is less than ideal.  

Regardless an association was found between high pesticide fruit and vegetable consumption and poor sperm quality.   Men who consumed the highest amount of pesticides had an almost 50% reduction in sperm count and 1/3 of their sperm cells were considered not properly shaped.  

These findings continue to add weight to the argument that organic food is about less pesticides, not necessarily higher nutrient contents.  If you know any couples that are struggling with fertility, please share this article and research paper with them.  We have a lot of issues in the world that need improving and we need healthy, strong, resilient people to solve them.