We have recently shown in our work that even the “low level” exposure to lead typical of most children in the United States contributes to ADHD symptoms. These levels of exposure are too low to warrant medical treatment and sometimes even too low to be detected on routine screenings (we used more sensitive equipment in our studies). If you suspect low level exposure to lead may be affecting your child, what can you do? I discuss this in detail in Chapter 6 of Getting Ahead of ADHD, specifically on page 160. But here, I offer a few resources to get you started:
1. The main step is eliminate further exposure. Study your home for ways to eliminate further exposure (paint, water, dust). Follow guidelines at the EPA site.
2. Test your water and add a high quality (e.g., reverse osmosis) filtration. Find one certified by one of the three underwriters: either NSF, Water Quality Association, or Underwriters Laboratories.
3. Other possible exposures: school playground, dirt around home or school (if constructed prior to 1980, could have lead paint), living near an airport (airplanes still use leaded fuel).
4. If you have a baby, breastfeed for at least the first 12 months (while mixing in other foods as appropriate with development according to doctor advice). While we don’t know how much it counteracts lead exposure, several studies have shown it can prevent harm from other pollutants.
5. Maintain a healthy diet and consider zinc or iron supplementation (with medical consultation to avoid overdosing those elements). While it’s not certain that these supplements can protect against lead exposure, they are potentially worth considering in safe doses.
6. Reduce stress; animal studies indicate that lead and stress interact. Although we haven’t yet proven this in humans, we know stress interacts with other exposures, so this is a pretty good bet.
7. Address functional concerns (attention, etc.) directly in the usual ways.
8. Although our work is starting to suggest ways to identify susceptible children with genetic tests, I do not believe that work is yet far enough along to justify genetic testing in a clinical setting.