Environmental Toxins


Environment toxins have an effect on all children and adults, especially those on the autistic spectrum. It is not thoroughly known whether environmental toxins are an underlying cause of autism that can change biochemistry (like mercury), or if they can damage genetic matter and turn on/off genes. What is known is that environmental toxins such as xylene, touluene, phthalates (plasticizers), and PCBs overload an already burdened body, cause seizures and damage, and contribute to the symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders.  For those on the spectrum with already overworked systems, these toxins can overburden a taxed liver, kidneys, and many other detoxification routes – creating further challenges. These chemicals affect the entire endocrine system including the thyroid (a problem in many with ASDs), adrenals, testes, ovaries, etc.  They are also potent neurotoxins in most cases and can cause serious seizures. Phthalates impact boys 4:1 over girls. This may help explain the higher rate in which boys are impacted by autism, as appearance of these chemicals corresponded to the increases in autism rates.  When phthalates were produced in the 1960’s only 3% of the people tested positive for them, now 97% do.  It’s possible that the bioaccumulation in the environment, and in mothers, could account for the rise in autism. These toxins are known to can cause birth defects, infertility, brain damage, cancer, and other serious effects. Environmental toxins are poisonous to all children and adults. Unfortunately their effects are often not immediately noticed.  Instead, slowly over time they build up to dangerous levels – sometimes effecting people in childhood and other times much later in life.  We have all heard stories in the news of chemicals causing cancer, birth defects, cognitive impairment, and more.  As you read above, any of the effects that apply to children on the spectrum, apply to a more or less degree to all children.  Pesticides are another environmental toxin causing cognitive impairment, liver stress, cancer, damage to fetuses and children, fine and gross motor disruption, etc.  None of these pesticides and other environmental chemicals are tested for their safety to children. Carbon Based through US Biotek has an environmental pollutants panel that tests for exposure to many of these environmental toxins.  This is wonderful test as it is much more cost effective than lab assessments in the past and is a simple urine test.

Chemicals and sources of exposure:

  • Xylene – Xylene, is a ubiquitous petrochemical solvent, is first oxidized via p450 enzymes then     conjugated with glycine
    • Emissions from petroleum refineries and chemical plants
  • Toluene
    • Paints
    • Paint thinners
    • Adhesives
    • Synthetic fragrances
    • Fabric softener
    • Nail polish
    • Cigarette smoke
    • Occupations such as printing or painting
    • Automobile emissions
  • Benzene
    • Emissions from burning coal and oil
    • Gasoline service stations
    • Motor vehicle exhaust
  • Trimethylbenzene
  • Styrene – polystyrene plastics and resins (often     referred to as Styrofoam)
  • Phthalic Acid Esters/Phthalates
    • Plastics: used in the manufacture of plastics to allow for flexibility and to soften resins.
    • Makeup
    • Detergents and shampoos
    • Time-released pharmaceutical drugs
    • Plastic toys
    • 21% of the PVC toys also contained lead (released as they age)
    • Teethers
    • This toxin is a well-known endocrine disruptor as well as causing neurological and developmental disorders. It can interfere with tryptophan metabolism resulting in an increase in quinolinic acid, a pro-inflammatory and neurotoxic compound. Phthalates have also been implicated in abnormal fetal development, especially in male fetuses.
  • Pesticides
    • Worst offenders: strawberries, peaches, apples, pears, grapes
    • Conventional (non-organic) produce from other countries
    • Meat and dairy products (non-organic) concentrate pesticides at a rate of 16 to 1 in comparison to produce. These are even more important to buy organic.

What you can do

To reduce plastic and chlorine-based exposure:
  • Do not store food in plastic wrap
  • Do not microwave in plastic containers
  • Look for PVC free film wrap
  • Buy toys and teethers without phthalates
  • Don’t let your water bottle heat up in the car
  • Reduce your use of plastic and look for non-chlorinated plastics with the 2,4, or 5 “recycling number”
  • Don’t use bleach in your home or bleached paper products (especially tampons)
  • Don’t drink tap water
  • Best to buy a reverse osmosis, carbon, ionic or other water filter
  • Get a shower filter that takes out chlorine
  • Reduce exposure to chlorinated pools
To reduce pesticide exposure:
  • Eat organic
  • When non-organic, peel and wash produce (Dr. Bronner’s and special produce washes work well)
  • Don’t use pesticides inside or outside home (avoid insect sprays inside and outside home, and herbicides or other pesticides around home or garden).
  • Don’t use flea dips on your pet
  • Don’t use pesticide shampoos for head lice (use natural remedies)

Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant who received her master’s degree in medical nutrition with distinction from Arizona State University. She is also a published nutrition researcher and has specialized in complex neurological conditions, particularly autism spectrum disorders and ADHD for over 20 years. Julie is the award winning author of Nourishing Hope for Autism, co-author of a study proving the efficacy of nutrition and dietary intervention for autism published in the peer-reviewed journal, Nutrients, and also the founder of BioIndividualNutrition.com. Download her free guide, 12 Nutrition Steps to Better Health, Learning, and Behavior.