October is ADHD Awareness Month, and in addition to genetic and biological causes, ADHD is partly caused by toxins in the environment such as BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), lead, and mercury, which all have distinct impacts on brain functionality. Today, we’ll break down why these neurotoxins contribute to ADHD, why ADHD costs the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year, how ADHD hits low income and minority communities the hardest, and some ways we can address these issues. With special guest Dr. Luz Claudio: Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and the Chief of the Division of International Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
When I first read Dr. Claudio’s paper on the link between BTEX and ADHD, I was really surprised. I then realized that made total sense given that it’s a neurotoxin, and that The Sweaty Penguin had already covered lead at that point. But I think it’s one thing to talk about neurotoxins in the vague sense and another to talk about how and why they create a disorder most of us are familiar with. I know several people with ADHD and know how hard they have to work to do many day-to-day tasks I might take for granted, so to think the environment exacerbates that really strikes a chord.
Learning how the environment contributes to ADHD also helped dispel some dangerous myths about what doesn’t cause ADHD. I had definitely heard myths about bad parenting or SpongeBob SquarePants and hadn’t put much thought into them, and not only are they untrue, but they invalidate the realness of ADHD and distract from some very important issues. I had some sense of the difficulties for individuals with ADHD and their families, but to see that the U.S. economy faces hundreds of billions of dollars in economic costs each year is absolutely staggering.
This episode also provided a great opportunity to reflect on some season one episodes. In the episode, I reference Lead Paint and Mercury, which helped me understand the neurological impacts of those toxins much more clearly. The episode also covers BTEX, which is emitted by Natural Gas Compressor Stations. And thinking about the relationship between genetic and environmental factors and how environmental improvements can help mitigate the prevalence of a health issue led me back to the Asthma episode. ADHD may have been one of the strongest examples to date of how every environmental issue ties together, and how closely linked they are not just to each other, but to health, the economy, justice, security, and essentially every other thing we hold dear.
I hope you enjoy today’s episode, and in the spirit of ADHD Awareness Month, spread it around to family and friends! 😉