The rate of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is rapidly rising and estimated to be 12% nationwide by US Census Bureau data.  According to community estimates, ADHD rates are as high as 20% in some areas.  Nationwide the percentage of children receiving prescription medication for ADHD is approaching 5% (and well over that in some areas).  As the number of children diagnosed with ADHD soars in the US, parents, educators, health care providers and scientists are asking, “why”?

The list of answers and possible explanations is quite long.  With no blood test to diagnose ADHD, and many reasons why overworked teachers, stressed parents and hurried doctors would want easy fixes, stamping a child with the ADHD label and starting that child on medication is an appealingly quick shovel-it-under-the-carpet response.  Anyone with the most superficial experience of the challenges posed by these children will be sympathetic.

One reasons for over-diagnosis is uncertainty about what really is normal.  Kids who are creative and unusually smart, need challenges or they will often create them for those around them.  Kids who learn well but need a lot of physical activity also draw negative attention.  Sadly, a child who sits quietly underachieving is often neglected.  We live in a culture where driving a two ton metal projectile hurtling down the road, inches away from dozens or even hundreds of other vehicles, is boring.  So we crank it up by talking on the phone, messing with CDs, running videos in the car and TEXTING!  Driving has become our most popular extreme sport.  Our culture is ADHD.  We create children in our own image.

Cultural elements have a huge impact.  So does diet.  As I’ve discussed before, many in the medical community have decades-long experience of the ADHD-reducing effects of a diet limited in additives, preservatives and sugar.  Even the British government is on board with this idea, after they funded a study expecting to discredit the theory.  Prenatal care is vital, as is getting enough of the right nutrients, physical activity, positive parenting and teaching.  Besides avoiding food additives, more and more research is linking unwanted “environmental additives” (ie, toxins) to ADHD.


The latest is a newly released Harvard study of nearly 250 pregnant women.  Researchers tested their urine for BPA, finding it in over 97% of the women, and compared those BPA levels to mothers’ reports of ADHD behaviors in their children at age 3.  With each 10 fold rise in BPA levels, there was a significant rise in mothers’ reports of their daughters’ emotional instability, anxiety and depression.  Although ADHD is much more common in boys, there was no correlation between BPA levels and the behaviors of boys in this sample.

For decades now, we have known that the poisons we dump into our world poison our brains, causing ADHD and other problems.  In the early 1970’s Harvard researcher Herbert Needleman discovered a very close correlation between blood lead levels and IQ.  Since then the list of bad actors grows year by year.  Organophosphates, developed for chemical warfare and present now in herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals, cause severe neurologic damage, as originally intended.  Studies by UC Berkeley on the young children of agricultural workers in California’s Central Valley, by Harvard on preteen and early teens and by Columbia have all found links between even barely detectable levels of organophosphates and ADHD. In 2008, 20-30% of US samples of foods such as celery, strawberries and blueberries found contamination with one or more organophosphates.  Korean studies have discovered strong links between phthalates and ADHD in school-aged children.  Government research shows that nearly every American man, woman and child now has detectable levels of phthalates in our bodies.

What to do?  Follow the essential health habits.  Drink enough water.  Exercise.  Eat a healthy diet.  Take a moderate amount of vitamin and mineral supplementation. Develop and maintain a positive attitude and social interactions. Avoid the stuff that makes us sick.  That covers a broad range.  Avoid food additives, including preservatives and flavoring agents.  Select foods least likely to expose you to unwanted chemicals (review the list below and favor organic and local).  Make your water as clean as possible. Create a stable, calm and pleasant environment.  Use music and physical activity to help your child move in the rhythm that suits him or her.

Most contaminated

Fruits – peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, imported grapes, pears

Vegetables – bell peppers, celery, kale, lettuce, carrots

Least contaminated

Fruit – pineapples, mangoes, kiwis, papayas, watermelons

Vegetables – onions, avocados, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, cabbages, eggplants, broccoli, tomatoes, sweet potatoes


Written by 

Michael Carlston, MD is an internationally recognized authority in the integration of conventional and complementary medicine in clinical practice, as well as medical education, research and organizational consulting. Practicing in Santa Rosa, California, Dr. Carlston was voted “Best General Physician In Sonoma County, California” by readers of the Sonoma County Independent newspaper and also named one of the outstanding physicians in the Bay Area by San Francisco Focus Magazine. With 30+ years in private practice, his expertise is in nutrition, homeopathy and sports medicine.