Is There a Connection between Chemical Exposure and ADHD?

A growing body of evidence links chemical exposure to the development of ADD/ADHD in children. Some chemicals are more strongly implicated that others, and some of the studies are inconclusive. However, the possible connection between toxic chemicals and ADD/ADHD cannot be ignored.

Following is a list of common chemicals implicated in the development of ADD/ADHD.


These ubiquitous chemicals are used to soften plastics and in cosmetics. They are often present in scented products as “fragrance stabilizers,” and they also can be found in lotions and make-up. Studies have shown that pregnant women who used phthalate-containing cosmetics while pregnant were more likely to report behavioral problems with their children over the course of several years. Korean studies have also shown a probable link between phthalate exposure and the development of ADHD.


The role of pesticides in ADHD is becoming more and more well known. Organophosphates are the specific type of pesticide that are indicated in ADHD, and some telling studies showed the presence of organophosphates in the urine of ADHD-positive children even though the children did not live in an agricultural community. This means that the children were exposed by a means other than proximity to a farm where organophosphates were being sprayed.

Studies show that children with higher levels of organophosphates in their urine are more likely to have the symptoms of ADHD. Organophosphates inhibit a vital brain chemical in insects – acetylcholinesterase, or AChE – resulting in the death of the insect. Research shows that, in humans, if AChE does not function correctly, symptoms of ADHD may result.

Heavy Metals

Exposure to heavy metals is known to have a profound effect on the brain, and research suggests that such exposure may result in ADHD.

* Lead – Several studies have indicated that lead’s interference with neurological function can result in ADHD. Lead paint in old houses and on some imported toys are the usual means of exposure in children.

* Mercury – This controversial metal was once used as a preservative in certain vaccines and as a component in dental fillings. It is used in batteries, thermometers, and other items. Mercury is liquid at room temperature and turns to vapor rather rapidly if it’s heated, so regions where trash is burned in industrial incinerators may be at greater risk of mercury exposure. Mercury poisoning sometimes manifests with ADHD-like symptoms.

Cleaning Products

Many household cleaning products come with cautionary labels. As consumers, many of us have gotten so used to these warnings that we may shrug them off, or we figure that if we’re not drinking large amounts of the cleaner then it’s harmless. But toxic means toxic, and even if you’re not actively ingesting the substance, you and your family may be ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing (through the skin and mucous membranes) low levels of the toxic substance.

Over time, these toxins may accumulate in the body, which might result in ADHD-like symptoms. Because the ADHD does not follow immediately upon exposure to a cleaner, it’s often not considered as a possible cause.


What’s the Science behind why we use fidget toys? Researchers believe that fidgeting distracts part of the brain that’s become bored so the other parts can pay attention to what we’re reading, hearing, or seeing. In other words, fidget toys are additional sensory-motor input that allows our brain to become fully engaged.

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