What the Heck is Happening to our Kids?

February 5, 2008

by Dr. Kenneth Bock

Autism Spectrum Disorders, Environmental Medicine, Nutritional Support

I want to begin with my first post here by talking about something that is very basic to the perpetuation of our society: our children. The specific question I want to ask is simple but key: What the heck is happening to our kids? Why I am starting with this question? Let me give you some background information.

In the United States and other industrialized, developed nations, epidemics of malnutrition and common childhood infectious illnesses are almost a thing of the past, due primarily to the technological advances of our industrial era. However, we are in the midst of a group of new childhood epidemics, which are directly related to this same industrialism and its associated pollution, environmental degradation and toxicity. One set of epidemics has, unfortunately, been replaced by another.

I have termed the new childhood epidemics “The 4-A Disorders”, and they include autism, ADHD, asthma and allergies. Over the past quarter of a century, autism has increased a staggering 1500%, while ADHD, asthma and allergies have also skyrocketed. I find these meteoric increases staggering, and they beg the question: Why?

This simultaneous rise is not coincidental. All of these disorders appear to be linked together by a similar mechanism: an underlying genetic vulnerability, triggered by environmental insults. The primary underlying genetic vulnerability appears to be, in many children, an impaired ability to detoxify, which has left them unable to cope with the ever-increasing number and level of toxins to which they are exposed. These toxins include numerous chemicals; plasticizers; BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates; flame retardants such as PBDE (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers); and pesticides such as organophosphates and organochlorines. They also include heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and aluminum. Added concerns arise from the phenomenon of synergistic toxicity among heavy metals and toxic chemicals. This means that even when threshold levels of individual toxins have not been exceeded, their combined effect can be quite significant, and harmful.

To effectively overcome the inflammation, nutritional deficiencies, immune dysfunction and other disparate factors that often result in a diagnosis of one of the 4-A disorders, a comprehensive treatment program must be initiated. I call this the 4-A Healing Program, and it consists of five primary elements:

  1. Avoiding toxicants
  2. Dietary modification
  3. Nutritional supplementation
  4. Detoxification
  5. Administration of medication (as appropriate).


Avoidance of toxicants is essential to nutritional and detoxification strategies, as they are obviously hampered by continued toxic environmental exposures. To explain this a bit further, let’s take the classic example of two people in a row boat that has sprung a leak. One approach to the problem is to use a pail to bale the water out, working feverishly just to keep up with the water still coming in from the leak. On the other hand, they could plug the leak and prevent more water from coming in and thereby lessen the demand for corrective measures downstream. The second approach, plugging the leak, is what we’re doing by avoiding further exposures to environmental toxins.


Dietary modification is extremely important. Many 4-A children have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, gas and pain. Most of those with GI symptoms and even some without obvious GI symptoms have underlying gut issues including malabsorption, maldigestion, dysbiosis (or unbalanced intestinal flora) and/or increased intestinal permeability – the so-called “leaky gut”. Main contributors to these gastrointestinal abnormalities are dietary factors, including food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. The most common offending foods seem to be gluten (the protein in grains including wheat, barley, rye and some oats) and casein (a protein in dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream). Some of these foods may even promote an addictive-type effect due to the endogenous morphines they produce. Avoiding these foods, especially gluten and casein, may initially produce withdrawal symptoms but often ultimately results in significant positive changes.


Nutritional supplementation is virtually always needed to support healing. Most 4-A children suffer from significant nutritional deficiencies, which not only contribute to neurological dysfunction, but also to other metabolic processes, such as proper function of the body and brain. At times there are frank deficiencies, but in other instances there are nutrient insufficiencies and/or imbalances that can cause adverse clinical effects. Because there is a significant overlap in the factors that cause the 4-A disorders, there is also often a significant overlap in the nutritional supplement programs that benefit the children suffering from these new childhood epidemics. Many of these children, regardless of their diagnoses, benefit from minerals (such as magnesium, zinc, selenium, chromium and iron), antioxidant vitamins (including, A, C and E), the B vitamins B-6 and methylcobalamin, vitamin D, targeted amino acids, essential fatty acids and probiotics.


Detoxification, the essential process of eliminating toxins from the body, can be significantly improved in many children, particularly those who suffer from impaired detoxification abilities. Methods for improving detoxification include the use of nutritional and herbal substances, including glutathione, taurine and curcumin, and in some cases the careful and judicious use of pharmaceutical chelators.


Medication, the fifth and final element of the program, is an integral part of treatment for many children who suffer from these disorders, and it is obviously an important factor in controlling asthma. In all of the 4-A disorders, a wide variety of medications may be of value, depending upon the individual needs of the child. These can include antifungals, immune modulators and anti-inflammatories to name just a few.

This comprehensive program, when applied cautiously, patiently, scientifically, and systematically, has been clinically shown to trigger recoveries in children with each of the 4-A disorders. It appears as if this approach may represent one of the most promising avenues of treatment for autism, ADHD, asthma, and allergies. Healing the environment and decreasing toxic exposures may ultimately be even more effective than medical treatment at stopping the proliferation of these new childhood epidemics. That task, though, will take time, and involve the cooperation of not only physicians, researchers and parents, but government and corporations as well.

For now, our focus must be on healing our children, one at a time. Our grave responsibility, as physicians and as parents, is to allow our children – born of love, and nurtured by those who love them most – to have the healthy, happy lives that all children deserve.

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