Recent research shows 45 percent of high-fructose corn syrup in commercial food products contains mercury, a known toxin, Dr. Anne Kelly told a group of medical professionals in Peoria.
"We have an estimated 10,000 new chemicals in the environment and no idea what the effect is on children," she said. "With this multitude of chemicals, the reality is we don't know what we're dealing with."
Kelly, president of Nutrition Ignition Inc. and former faculty member in general pediatrics at the University of Minnesota, was in Peoria recently as part of the Methodist Center for Integrative Medicine grand rounds presentations.
"There is no longer any doubt environmental toxins are accumulating in the soil, water, fish and humans," she said. "There is a strong link between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity."
Mercury exposure also has been linked with neurological learning disorders including autism, she said.
Kelly and other physicians are looking beyond genetic factors to account for the rapid increase in children diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders and examining the role of diet and environmental toxins.
Their findings are alarming.
Last year, two U.S. studies found that nearly half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup contained mercury. On average, American adults consume about 12 teaspoons daily of high-fructose corn syrup, but teens and other high consumers take in up to 80 percent more than that.
"Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be an additional source of mercury never before considered," Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said in a prepared statement after the studies were released.
In her own practice, Kelly has helped children by eliminating chemicals from their environments and their diets.
She has found that some of the triggers for children with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, are cow's milk, wheat, MSG, artificial food coloring, preservatives, fried foods and packaged foods.
"I grew up in Illinois on a farm near Pontiac. The cow's milk I grew up on is different from what's in grocery stores today," she said, referring to the growth hormones, antibiotics and husbandry practices used on the majority of commercial dairy farms today.
"Parents of kids with autism report their children are hyper-sensitive to toxins," Kelly said.
"A small group of kids with chronic medical problems are developing multiple allergies. The gut plays a big role in how kids grow and develop."
Another finding has shown children with ADHD are low in certain essential nutrients including zinc, Vitamin D, iron, magnesium and serotonin, she said, noting they also commonly have deficiencies of B12, omega 3 and iodine.
Children with better diets are better equipped to deal with toxins.
"With lead poisoning, children with better diets have better outcomes neurologically," she said, noting that children's ability to detoxify chemicals from their bodies may be a factor in who develops autism and who does not. "These detoxification enzymes need vital nutrients."
While DDT, a powerful insecticide, has been outlawed, it has been replaced with more water soluble chemicals that contaminate ground water, she said, citing a study that found 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cords of newborn children.
"Children are born polluted," she said. "We see an explosion of inflammatory issues with the esophagus and stomachs. Are these food allergies or allergies to the chemicals in food?"
Besides working with children and their parents, Kelly is working with teachers to alter nutritional strategies in schools.
She is an advocate for health care reform that would allow physicians to be more innovative and track long-term outcomes. She compared the current health care system in this country with auto insurance, which only pays for repairs, not maintenance.
Public health departments in this country are structured to track infectious diseases and outbreaks of food poisoning, she said, but we need public health departments to look at toxins in the environment and neurodevelopmental problems in children.
Kelly concluded: What is the simplest first step we can take? Eliminate artificial food coloring and sweetened sodas and juices and drink more water.
"Kids have forgotten how to drink plain water," she said.
Kelly also advises parents to eliminate plastic in the kitchen and get back to glass.
"The overarching message is diet makes a difference in neurobehavioral problems and there are simple steps we can take immediately," she said. "The potential is huge to improve outcomes."
Clare Howard can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com.