Heavy Metals Toxicity and ADHD


We all know exposure to heavy metals can be dangerous for kids.

We steer our kids away from the obvious sources, of heavy metals, like old paint, mercury laden fish,  and second-hand smoke.

But, did you know that even a small amount of heavy metals toxicity can cause symptoms exactly like those of ADHD?

Let me say that again – Even small amounts of heavy metals can cause symptoms exactly like those of ADHD. 

I had no idea.

Recently we began to work with a nutritionist to dig deeper and try to figure out why some behaviors were popping up again, particularly in my oldest son with ADHD.

I’ve learned so much over the past several month about heavy metals and ADHD, that I just had to share…

I am committed to being very  transparent about what we’re doing to approach ADHD in a totally natural way so that it helps YOU find answers for your family FAST!

This article is not meant to be a prescription or medical advice for your kids, rather it’s like you and I are sitting down for a long, overdue cup of coffee and sharing stories. 

Even after 7 years of learning and growing as an ADHD Parent, I am still making new discoveries.

Let’s step back and see how things started…

I saw an increase in ADHD behaviors 

If I am honest, my oldest’s symptoms of ADHD had increased over the last 6 to 9 months. I chalked it up to anxiety from distance learning, hormones, or teenage angst, most likely something I could not really control.

I was settling into a mindset of the behaviors being something I might just have to deal with for awhile, until the hormones settle down or the world situation returns to “normal”.

You know, everyone is a little anxious and agitated these days, right?

Our wonderful supplement protocol or diet had not changed. I really wondered what could be causing these symptoms. I was truly feeling a bit helpless about it all.

Related: Our ADHD Story 

We started working with a nutritionist

I am certainly not one to shy away from getting help.  After all, we’ve seen multiple therapists, an OT a PT, and academic tutors. 

I learned early on that I needed help doing this thing called parenting.

Lots of help.

We began working with a nutritionist, Cris Brown of The ADHD Method to dig deeper and see if we could figure out what might be causing this uptake in ADHD behaviors. I had met Cris on Instagram (and even interviewed her for this blog)  and she suggested a hair analysis to see what was going on. 

A hair analysis?  What’s that??

I had no idea….so I’m letting you in on a conversation with our nutritionist, Cris Brown of AllBoutBalance.ca.

Do heavy metals cause ADHD?

My boys’ hair analysis result showed they had pretty high levels of some toxic metals.

Startlingly, heavy metals can build up slowly over time, causing symptoms that are identical to those of ADHD. 

 I’ve spent years looking into what could be behind my boys’ ADHD behaviors and never learned anything about heavy metal toxicity – until now. 

Effects of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Heavy Metal Toxicity looks just like ADHD.

Many people believe that one cause of the huge rise in ADHD amongst children is due, in part, to environmental toxins, including heavy metals.  You’d be hard pressed to find a kid out there who does not have some toxins in their body. Shockingly, newborn babies can carry 100’s of different chemicals and toxins in their blood.

One research study indicates that heavy metal exposure promotes neurodevelopmental toxicity and may be one of the underlying causes of childhood behavioral disorders, like ADHD, ODD, ASD, among others.

According to the World Health Organization, even very low levels of lead in the system can cause learning difficulties and attention issues. 

Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the countries leading functional doctors and head of the clevelend clinic believes chronic low-level metal toxicity is not only common, it is under diagnosed, and can lead to a myriad of vague symptoms, including chronic fatigue, depression, insomnia, digestive disorders, and can worsen the symptoms of ADHD.

The effects heavy metals can have on the body are startling similar to ADHD:

  • Metals can displace other minerals like zinc and iron that are required for neurotransmitter production. This inhibits the production of dopamine and seratonin, the feel good chemicals. 
  • Heavy metals can cause oxidative stress which impairs learning and behavior.
  • In young developing brains, heavy metals alter brain development and change the architecture, ultimately causing learning problems and lower IQs

The list of harmful effects of heavy metals continues:

  • Changes in mental status or personality
  • Nervousness
  • Feel irritated easily
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Problems with concentration

Doesn’t this list look startlingly like a list of ADHD symptoms ?

Thankfully, heavy metal toxicity is something that can be prevented, monitored, cured, or vastly improved with a variety of treatments.

Heavy metal toxicity can be complicated

The extent to which heavy metals are harmful depends on so many factors like the age of person exposed, the amount of exposure, the length of exposure, the health of the person exposed and the type of metals the person is exposed to. 

If your child has been exposed to a very large amount of these metals over a short period of time, you will know immediately, as it will cause an acute illness with vomitting, lethargy, or confusion.

It’s the slow absorption of these metals over time, that can cause symptoms without you even knowing the cause. Even very low levels of these metals can cross the blood brain barrier and cause neurological damage.

Our bodies can be very good at getting rid of contaminants, such as heavy metals, but they can also block the bodies ability to do so. 

The problem lies in knowing how much is too much. Opinions on this vary greatly  from thinking  any lead is too much , to some is okay.

Any amount of heavy metal toxicity to me sounds scary and something I want to work to remedy now and take precautions to avoid in the future.

Before we start to look at solutions, let’s back up and see how you can find out if your kids have a toxic load to contend with. 

How can I test for Heavy Metals?

There are a few ways to test for heavy metals and each of them have some pros and cons:  

Hair Analysis – Heavy metals and toxins are eliminated through your hair and therefore hair samples can be used to gather information about your bodies’ toxicity level. A small amount of hair can be sent to a reputable lab to test for toxins in your system. Hair element levels often appear prior to overt symptoms and can thereby be a valuable preliminary tool for predicting the development of more serious neurological issues. 

  • Pros: Easy and non-invasive, backed by 40 years of research, can glean lots of info from a tiny amount of hair, can show what the body has been storing for weeks or even months.
  • Cons:  A hair analysis can be costly and usually not offered by your pediatrician or covered by insurance. Many doctors have very little knowledge of this test and hence, are skeptical.  The test can show that the body is GOOD at getting rid of heavy metals and other toxins. Hair samples can be contaminated from shampoos, hair dyes, water, and other factors in the environment.

Urine testing – Urine can be tested when a provocation or chelating substance is ingested that helps to release heavy metals in the body and then bind with them so they can be passed out of the body thru the urine. Often the test is done twice, with and without a provocation for comparison.

  • Pros: A good way to test long term body burden, easy to gather a sample, non invasive
  • Cons: A urine test is not widely offered and often not covered by insurance,

Blood testing – Your doctor can perform a simple blood test to check for heavy metals. This is probably the most common method of testing and the one most of us are familiar with. 

  • Pros: Most likely covered by insurance, a very common, well known method
  • Cons: Blood tests can be inaccurate because metals circulate in the blood for a short time(up to 90 days), before moving out to the organs and tissues, does not test the full body load in tissues and organs.
  • The body often maintains the blood at the expense of other organs, dumping heavy metals into other tissues and the hair.

Having two different tests done can help you compare the results and get a better overall picture of the toxic load you or your child are carrying. 

Sources of heavy metal exposure

“How can my kids be exposed to all these heavy metals?”

Mercury, lead, cadmium, and  arsenic are the most toxic of heavy metals.  The scary thing is these metals can be odorless, tasteless and can easily creep into your child’s system and build up over time.

It is a good idea to browse the list below to see if your kids may have some exposure to one of these toxic heavy metals. These lists are not complete by any means, but address the major sources of exposure. 

Sources of Mercury

Mercury takes three forms – organic(methyl), inorganic, and elemental – with each form having it’s own sources of exposure.

  • Methyl mercury is found in fish, most commonly ahi tuna, orange roughy, shark, King Mackeral
  • Elemental mercury is found in thermometers and dental filings and novelty jewelry (be wary of cheap jewelry, especially if your kiddo tends to put things in their mouths)
  • While most uses of mercury have been stopped, many vaccines still contain small amounts of mercury.

Sources of Lead

  • Paint – If you live in an older home(pre 1978), there may be lead paint exposed or at the very least hiding under a few coats of newer paint. 
  • Water – If you live in an old house, the pipes leading to your home, most likely are lead. If you are suspicious, have your water tested by a third party lab. Our towns overall lead score was 0, but our home tested at 5.88 parts per million. 
  • Soil – Soil near roadways can still be contaminated from old leaded gasoline. Deteriorating exterior paint on buildings or fences can also cause contamination. 
  • Dishware and Ceramics – vintage dish ware or dishes made in other countries often contains lead that can seep into food. We got rid of all of our vintage dishes and cookware.
  • Canned food – imported canned food can contain lead in the solder used to seal the cans. 
  • I love the website Leadsafemama for all of her research and testing – you’ll be amazed at all the things that contain lead.

Sources of Cadmium

  • Consumer products – cigarettes, batteries, craft glazes, jewelry, and metal coatings
  • Food – some shellfish, kidney meats, rice, grain cereals, and vegetables
  • Cigarette smoke is a huge source of cadmium, more for the smoker, but second hand smoke can contain some, too.
  • Burning coal or oil produces cadmium and therefor soil near roadways or industry often contains cadmium.
  • Consuming foods, like rice, that have been grown in soil contaminated with cadmium. 

Sources of Arsenic

  • Rice – even organic rice can contain some arsenic.
  • Contaminated drinking water: Millions of people around the world are exposed to drinking water that contains high amounts of inorganic arsenic. This is most common in South America and Asia.
  • Seafood: Fish, shrimp, shellfish and other seafood may contain significant amounts of organic arsenic, the less toxic form. However, mussels and certain types of seaweed may contain inorganic arsenic as well.
  • Rice and rice-based foods: Rice accumulates more arsenic than other food crops. In fact, it is the single biggest food source of inorganic arsenic, which is the more toxic form.

Sources of Aluminum

Detection can be a process

Detecting heavy metals is not a one and done process. I would always suggest getting at least two different tests done to compare the results. With the right practitioner, the results can be cross referenced and can really give you a lot of information.

Our hair analysis was done first and started us on the road to a much bigger process.  At the suggestion of our nutritionist, we had a blood test done, as well. 

The blood test confirmed a few of the toxicities the hair analysis did and the two tests together gave us a good starting place and some great information for our nutritionist to plan our attack.

My oldest also had a urine test done which showed some of the same toxicities as the blood test. 

It is vital to work with a professional thru all of this testing. Proper guidance is needed to interpret the results of the tests and suggest a protocol moving forward. 

No testing method is 100% fool proof. But when multiple tests are done together they can give you some great information to be able to move forward with a plan and uncover some imbalances and toxicities that very well may be affecting your kids behavior. 

Detoxing From Heavy Metals

How can I be sure that detoxing will improve my kids’ behavior? 

You can’t be 100% sure of anything.

There are so many other factors that could be behind behaviors – school, friends, siblings, sleep, exercise, a global pandemic…


(There’s always a BIG BUT)

Working with our nutritionist improved some behaviors within weeks. Our detox protocol called for taking out pretty much all processed foods  and focusing on super nutritious and healing foods. 

Yes, our already pretty great diet, was improved upon even more. As we got even more sugar out and upped fiber and healing bone broth, my son was calmer and less agitated!  

In addition to changing what went into our bodies, we also looked for sources of heavy metals that were in our immediate environment:

As we continue to detox, I am sure I will see behaviors improve more. I am excited to see the results. The detoxification process takes time – not just weeks, but months. 

**Remember detoxing from heavy metals can be dangerous and should be done only under the care of a professional.**

That said, there are many things you can do on your own to help prevent or lessen your kids exposure to heavy metals or other toxic substances. 

Easy Detox Practices

I am not suggesting everyone go get a hair analysis or blood test done.  But if you have not seen results from a more natural protocol or are seeing new behaviors after seeing success with your protocol, it might be something to consider. 

Even if you don’t feel the need for heavy metals testing, there are many things you can do to reduce your families’ risk of getting heavy metal toxicity.  Some are easier than others, but all of them can yield results. 

Just being aware of the sources of heavy metals is a great first step. 

There are many ways to reduce your bodies’ toxic load: 

  • Work with a nutritionist to improve your child’s gut(grain free diet, taking digestive enzymes and obtaining a personal supplement protocol)
  • Improve the bodies’ ability to flush out toxins ( ie, be a better pooper!)
  • Purchase a high quality water filter like ours
  • Use a castor oil pack frequently to help detoxify and flush the kidneys and liver
  • Eat minimal amounts of processed foods avoid plastic packaging and aluminum cans.
  • Replace old or toxic, non-stick cookware with new, minimal aluminum brands
  • Replace aluminum camping mess kits with stainless steel versions.
  • Eat lots of garlic and onions to help flush toxins from the body.
  • Get plenty of exercise, including jumping on the trampoline to flush the lymphatic system.
  • Sweat a lot via exercise or an infrared sauna(Our appointments are booked!)
  • Check your dishes for lead and cadmium. Leadsafemama is a great resource to check if your plates and mugs contain lead.

Again, remember, we are working with a professional to help us, but we are also doing most of the above listed steps to help support our detox and live a cleaner life.

All of the suggestions are just good practice for anyone wanting to live a healthier lifestyle.

aluminum mess kits

Detox Takeaways, so far

This part of our journey, is one that I am grateful to take part in.  It shows that no matter where we are on that journey, there is always something more to learn

Finding professional help is key.  Test results are hard to decipher, so finding someone who knows what they are doing is important. 

It’s never just one thing. We are in tricky times and I know that my son’s behavior is not just about one thing. He’s nervous all the time during the pandemic and is reminded everyday when he get’s on a Zoom call for school. But working with a nutritionist is supporting him in a new way and allowing his body to become stronger and more able to handle life’s stressors.

Even baby steps move you forward.  It takes time to detox from heavy metals. I am focusing on moving forward, even in small ways.

Realize that the stress can derail your efforts. Often the stress of dealing with a situation may be as debilitating as the situation itself. Don’t add more stress into the mix. 

Do the best you can on any given day.  Needless to say, this has been stressful on our family – but most of that comes from me! I tend to freak out first, act second and I’m learning…

Healing the gut is central to detoxing. I know the gut is our second brain and the epicenter of the production of our feel good chemicals. Taking a good probiotic and steering away from processed foods that feed the bad gut bacteria is an important part of detox. 

And you can always do a bit better. Yes, you can drag that chicken out of the fridge and steam the veggies instead of preparing something from a box or heading thru the drive thru. That said….

Always double or triple batch your meals.  With remote learning and just the general stress of a pandemic going on, I want easy.  I always cook enough to at least have leftovers once, if not twice. 

Focus on how to get  a lot of veggies into your kids. Nutrient dense veggies help the body heal itself. With a teen and a tween boy, that in itself, can be a challenge.  I have been doing almost a smoothie a day using this protein powder, my boys love(and my nutritionist gives it the thumbs up!)

We are just at the beginning of our detox journey….I’ll be adding to this post as I learn more. 

I had no idea heavy metals could be a source of ADHD-like behaviors. I hope this article has added to your ADHD Parenting Toolbox.