The Root Cause of ADD and ADHD

In this week’s episode of Integrative Wellness Radio, join functional medicine physician Dr. Nicole Rivera and functional nutritionist, Brooke Scheller in a discussion on the root cause of ADD/ADHD symptoms within yourself or your children.

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Brooke Scheller: Hey there, welcome back to another episode of Integrative Wellness Radio. This is Brooke Scheller, the functional nutritionist to Integrative Wellness Group, and I'm here today with Dr. Nicole, the functional medicine physician. We're going to be talking to you a bit about ADD and some of the underlying things that may be causing this, and what you can do to help your child or yourself, if you're an adult.

We wanted to talk about this because it's a topic, I think, that is coming up a lot and it's definitely a diagnoses that's thrown around pretty easily these days. When we were looking up some statistics we were finding that somewhere around 11% of children is diagnosed per year with ADD, so it's something that is definitely increasing in prevalence, especially in the environment that we live in these days. We're seeing more things like obesity, and toxins in our food system, and just poor quality foods in general, and questioning about how certain things like that could be effecting us, as well.

Nicole Rivera: I find that it's interesting, too, because I think that there's a lot of different research coming out and a lot of, especially functional medicine physicians stepping forward and talking about the correlation with the gastrointestinal system and how it plays a role in the brain, and how it could be contributing to things like ADD and ADHD. One of the things that we find that is actually a bigger player in the picture is going to be toxin related, like Brooke mentioned. Things along the lines of herbicides, pesticides, and heavy metals. Heavy metals including aluminum, arsenic, mercury, barium. These are things that we might not even acknowledge the fact that they could be something we're getting exposed to.

I think when we were all younger we heard, "Oh, lead paint. If you have lead paint make sure to get that out of the house and repaint the walls." We might be also hearing about mercury in fish, so they always say avoid it if you're pregnant, etc., but there's really not that much light being shed on the fact that heavy metals are in almost everything we eat, and they're extremely abundant in our water, and they're extremely abundant in even our kitchens. It's everything from the pots and pans that we cook with to the aluminum foil that we wrap our potatoes in when we're making baked potatoes. It is definitely something that we are getting exposed to in excess throughout our lifetime.

Brooke Scheller: Yeah, and I think the heavy metals have a little bit of a shock factor. A lot of times when we mention that this could possibly be playing a role, people go, "Oh my gosh, how would I get that?" Or something like arsenic, "Oh my gosh, isn't that a poison? Has someone been poisoning me? How would I get exposed to that?" But as Dr. Nicole mentions, these things are in our water, they're in our air, they're in the foods that we eat, and again, the products and things that we use, and even personal products that we're using. I think it's a matter of taking an assessment on your general environment, but we want to give you some information today about how this could possibly be causing things like ADD, ADHD.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah. I think it's interesting that you mentioned arsenic as well, because many people do come up elevated in arsenic, and this is a conversation that I have with a lot of people, especially a lot of parents in reference to their children. Arsenic is something that is very highly abundant with brown rice and brown rice products, so like brown rice syrup. And if you look at most of your formulas, baby formulas, you will actually find high abundance of brown rice syrup in most of the formulas. Most children are actually getting exposed to, again, these, first of all, food additives, in addition to these heavy metals at a very, very early age.

Brooke Scheller: Well, and another thing that we didn't mention is the possibility of vaccines play a role in that, as well.

Nicole Rivera:[00:05:00]
Yeah, again, this is always such a touchy topic, and we have created a previous podcast about giving you just more information of different things to consider with vaccination. But overall, one of the big things that has shifted in the world of vaccination is they have ... A lot of people have caught wind of mercury being in vaccines and acknowledging that mercury is a poison and is not something that they necessarily want to have their kids be injected with. So, a lot of the companies have actually started to decrease the levels of mercury in vaccines, but what they have done to compensate is actually more than quadruple the amount of aluminum, which is equally as toxic. Again, this is not to promote anti-vaccination by any means, but this is just to provide you with the knowledge of understanding what could potentially be harmful in a vaccine, especially if your child is dealing with an extreme case of ADD or ADHD in the first place.

Brooke Scheller: Yeah, so let's talk about what the symptoms might be.

Nicole Rivera: ADHD is going to stand for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This is going to be more associated with the kids who are bouncing off the walls, essentially. They're not only having issues with focus or maybe having issues with school and getting good grades, but they're also going to have that level of hyperactivity, which they're not always able to control completely.

The ADD, on the flip side, is going to be more associated with kids that are struggling with concentration, their ability to focus and pay attention for long periods of time. They're not always going to have necessarily that hyperactivity component to it.

Brooke Scheller: One thing I think that's really interesting, and actually a colleague in school of mine had brought this up. We were talking about some of the psychological disorders and how psychiatry is the only branch of medicine where we don't use any specific definitive testing, or lab analysis, or blood values to actually define and say, for example, if someone gets a virus or a bacterial infection and we test them and we can see that they've been effected by it. Versus something like ADD or ADHD, which I think is very interesting that we have maybe a scale with a number system, and if the child or the adult falls within a certain range then they're then categorized as being ADD or ADHD. I think it's one of those things that it's very fluctuate in terms of, I would say the spectrum of people that might fall into that. So, you may have maybe a real mild case of a little bit of focus issues, or maybe something that's more extreme where you really have someone bouncing off the walls, or the child really kind of being a little bit more out of control. I think with that being said, what's really interesting is we don't do any testing for it, so we don't really understand why is this happening, because there's some type of underlying reason. With that being said, let's talk about how the metals may be playing a role with that.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah. I definitely want to dive into the actual testing and things that we usually find with people that are suffering with these types of symptoms, but what I find so interesting, too, is, especially for us living in New Jersey, we're always turned on. We always have to be doing something. If you're a child you're going to school, then you have homework, then you have spots. We live in a world that everybody is constantly on technology. We're pretty much surrounded by Bluetooth at all times, most of our cars a Bluetooth, most of our homes surround systems are all Bluetooth and wireless. Everybody has a cellphone, if your child doesn't, chances are two or more people in the car have a cell phone. So, we are constantly being overstimulated and most of the younger generations are also driving the right side of their brain because they're constantly stimulating it by using video games, or a lot of their homework is now on computers, different types of softwares and programs. That is a whole issue in itself that we are creating imbalances in the brain hemispheres because of the overstimulation and the constant use of all of the technology and devices.

The other big player in the balancing of brain hemispheres, or just the health and integrity of the brain in general, is the thought process of these heavy metals. We're talking about heavy metals, we mention lead, we mentioned arsenic, we mentioned mercury, aluminum. These are neurotoxins. They are toxic to the neurological system of the body, a.k.a. the brain. With that being said, these will play a very big role in how the brain is communicating with each other, meaning both hemispheres.

The example that I found very useful by another practitioner was, he talked about the Grand Canyon, and he said, "We have this Grand Canyon. Everything moves about its way in a very specific pattern. So, we have rivers that flow through it in a specific pattern, and we have wind that flows through it in a specific pattern. So, if we were to start to dump a bunch of boulders into the Grand Canyon, then essentially everything has to get rerouted, and the water has to learn to flow in a different way to get where it needs to go. The wind will flow in a different way." One of the biggest things that we find is that these heavy metals, they actually, in children that are under the age of 18, they will actually affect this cavern that is in between the hemispheres of the brain. So, literally just thinking if you were to draw a line straight at the top of the skull, straight from front to back, that is where that cavern is located. If you think about heavy metals effecting that very specific part of the brain, then it's going to almost act like those boulders in the Grand Canyon and it is going to cause the brain to work really, really, really hard to communicate with each other, because each hemisphere does different things, and they have to communicate with each other.

[00:11:30] With that being said, it's almost like an obstacle course, and the brain is working super hard. One of the interesting things is when you have children, especially children, and I would say adults, too, that have ADD or ADHD, a lot of times you find that they want to eat sugar. They crave sugar, and you go, "I cannot give them the sugar, because that might make them more hyperactive, or it might affect their concentration more." What's so interesting is your brain is driven by glucose, a.k.a. sugar, so if your brain is working super hard to send those messages from hemisphere to hemisphere then it makes perfects sense as to why your child is craving massive amounts of sugar. The thing is, if you give your child sugar in the form of fruit, that actually can be really beneficial. If you're giving your child candy, which is sugar mixed with fat, not going to benefit the brain in the slightest bit.

I find that these patterns of the ADD the ADHD, and these cravings for sugar, in addition to other underlying yeast overgrowths in these children, which kind of goes back to all the research being done on the gut, because they're finding this yeast in the gut is contributing to the ADD, but in reality it's because these kids crave so much sugar, which feeds the yeast in their guts. So, it's such an interesting pattern, because almost any person that we speak to that has this diagnosis has those symptoms.

Brooke Scheller: If someone's listening and either they're suffering or they have a child who has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, what types of testing would you off the bat recommend for them to have done?

Nicole Rivera: When you're talking about heavy metal testing, there's a couple ways that you can go. We opt to do a hair sample, it's easy, it's very effective, it gives you great results. We're looking at the hair sample and it's going to measure all of the different heavy metals that we mentioned, plus more. The only downfall with the hair sample is if you have an adult or a child that has massive amounts of amalgam filling, so the silver fillings in their teeth, unfortunately you can not measure the type of mercury that comes from those fillings, which is classified as inorganic mercury. You can only really measure the levels of mercury that comes from external sources, like fish, as well as vaccinations. So, that's the only downfall that I would say comes with the hair sample, but there are other avenues that you can go.

You can do something called a urine challenge. I don't usually do that with children because they have to take a specific supplement that could potentially be hard on their kidneys. Then there is also blood tests that you can do, but the blood tests are not very accurate. The reason being, if you have heavy metals floating around in your blood you would be pretty ill, so most of the time the heavy metals will burrow themselves in other parts of the body, it could be tissue, it could be organs. So, when you actually look at a hair sample it's giving you more of a reflection of the tissues.

Some of the other types of analysis that we would do also is, obviously we want to just do baseline blood work, and we want to see if there is any level of infections that are happening. You'd be very surprised on different types of viruses, as well as even parasite infections, that can play a very big role in our neurological function, as well. So, we always want to see if that is something that is playing a role. Definitely looking to see if that person has had mold exposure, primarily because mild does manifest neurologically, as well.

Then I would say the last piece of the puzzle is looking at the gut. The point of this podcast is to really have people understand that the gut is important, but the heavy metals are more significant when we are talking about ADD and ADHD. If you're working with an individual who has different things built up in their gut, you really have to focus on heavy metals first, and then you can move in to helping them to shed any infections in their gastrointestinal system. That's more of a secondary.

Brooke Scheller: Let's give people some at home ideas that they can do to start reducing their exposure to heavy metals. I know that we briefly mentioned things like the vaccinations or some of the cookware at home, but I want people to be able to kind of take an overall assessment of their environment, where they might be being exposed, and then being able to cut back and seeing if that helps, as well.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah, that could be a really long conversation, so I'm going to give just kind of my top few. First and foremost, if you or your child is using antiperspirant I would definitely say switching that for a different alternative. Switching to more of a natural deodorant is really important. The couple brands that we like is called Native, and we also really love Milk and Honey. Those are both deodorants, again, they're not antiperspirants. Antiperspirant primarily will have high abundance of aluminum, especially if you use it every day, it's a very significant exposure.

The other one is reducing your amount of aluminum foil use. If you switch to using more of a parchment paper, that is going to be a great alternative. Also, taking inventory on your kitchen products. Everything from the pots and pans that you're cooking with, as well as even your bake pans. I know for myself I made the switch for my saute pans and my stock pots, and I switched over to a lot of stainless steel. I kind of didn't really think about the fact that most of my bake pans and my cupcake trays and all of that was actually aluminum based. I didn't necessarily throw everything out, I started kind of just lining everything with the parchment paper, but I've slowly started to introduce different alternatives. I use actually silicone cupcake trays, and also using a lot of Pyrex, so glass, for a lot of the baking. Another great option is terra cotta, which is more of a clay.

I would say those are some really ideal things that you can start doing right way. Also, when it comes to some of the other tools that you can use to see if yourself or your child is actually dealing with a heavy metal issue without necessarily getting the testing right away, is if you actually start to give your child fruit by itself completely, and you give them anywhere between three to four servings ... so, let's say a serving is a whole banana, or a whole apple, or a serving is also going to be a cup of berries ... and you're giving them fruit throughout the day, but they're eating it by itself, they're not eating it with almond butter, they're not eating it with yogurt, they're not eating it with anything else, and actually giving them about a week and noticing if their symptoms have reduced.

Brooke Scheller: One last thing I want to mention is water. I think that's really big one. I think that's a place where people are definitely being exposed, and maybe even if you're not drinking tap water, you're using something like a Brita filter or a Pur filter, those are not going to be heavy duty enough to be removing a lot of the heavy metals, again, these things like arsenic. Another thing that you may be wanting to look into is do you have well water, because well water is also going to be higher in these different types of metals. Another thing is that we're showering in them, and for our children we're bathing in them, so they're soaking in these waters that we could possibly be absorbing even these types of things through our skin, as well.

With that being said, we typically recommend something called a Berkey Water Purification System, and that remove arsenic and fluoride and all different types of heavy metals. Even looking into something for your home as well, some type of shower filter or at home water system, and possibly even getting some testing done to see how necessary that that might be.

Nicole Rivera: Yeah. The water is something really not to be taken lightly. For those of you listening all over the country, or all over the world, us living in New Jersey it's a very big problem and it's really a huge thing that we focus on educating our clients about. Really, no matter where you live, between the pharmaceuticals that get dumped down toilets ... we have a lot of friends that we know of that work in hospitals and that's just kind of the protocol, because they don't want excess medications to get stolen and sold out on the streets, so a lot of it is going to be dumped down and getting into our water systems.

We're also finding that there is a lot of interactions between the heavy metals, the pharmaceuticals, and the things that we use to clean the water, like the chlorine and ammonia, and it's creating some level of carcinogens, which are cancer causing properties. So, the water is really something that, first and foremost, is just starting to explore how you can be drinking safer water. We all know that we should drink water, and we try to really focus on doing that and making sure we're hydrated, but you could be potentially getting exposed to a lot of different things.

I'm glad you mentioned the well water, as well, just because a lot of our clients, and I don't know what it is and I don't know if it's specifically just in New Jersey, but a lot of the people that we've recommended of them to get their well water tested have had high abundance of e. coli in their wells. It's really not even heavy metals, there's bacterial problems, as well, so it's something to really take into consideration.

Brooke Scheller: I'm glad you mentioned all over the country, too, because there's a lot of areas in the country that are doing fracking for oil, as well, and that's another big, major way that these different types of chemicals and metals can be getting into your water supply. Definitely if you're living in an area where that's of concern, you definitely want to take a look into this and get some filtration in the home.

Nicole Rivera: Even farming areas. The farms are using lots of chemicals and pesticides, which will also eventually get into the water system. Again, the Berkey system is really fantastic. There are other systems out there, it's just you don't want to necessarily be spending too much money before you kind of know if the product is right for you. We do find that the Berkey is just more cost effective than others. So, take a look at it online and maybe that could be a good starting place.

Brooke Scheller: We'd love to offer you a free 15 minute consultation over the phone if you're listening and you may want to ask more questions, or have us guide you in any way towards the right type of testing for you or your family, You can head over to to schedule that. We look forward to talking to you soon.