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Updated by Environmental Illness Network Minnesota on Jan 22, 2016
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Environmental Exposures & Mental/Behavioral Health

Why do 40 million Americans have anxiety disorders? Why are 1 in 10 Americans depressed? Why do 3-7% of American kids have ADHD? Could environmental exposures play a role? This is a list of potential environmental SUSPECTS that might be linked to mental and behavioral health. Further research is needed about some of these suspects. Environmental Illness Network Minnesota doesn't guarantee the accuracy, nor necessarily agree with all, of the information from the linked sources.

Air Pollution

According to the above linked study: "Airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) are widespread urban air pollutants from fossil fuel burning and other combustion sources." The study found: "high prenatal PAH exposure ... was positively associated with symptoms of Anxious/Depressed and Attention Problems..." Another study linked breathing polluted air to an increased suicide risk: Another study found: "mice that had been exposed to the particulate pollutants demonstrated more depressive-like symptoms and learning and memory problems than the control mice." Another study found postnatal exposure to air pollution linked to behavior aimed at more immediate rewards: Medical News Today reported that: "Emissions From Coal-Fired Electricity Plants May Affect People Suffering From Different Mood Disorders And Impact Suicide Rates."

Alcohol (Prenatal)

The above linked Futurity article reports that "young adults exposed to even relatively small amounts of alcohol in the womb showed dose-dependent gray matter reductions in several brain areas implicated in behavioral consequences of prenatal alcohol exposure."


According to the above linked USA Today article: "Over the past decade, a flurry of research has suggested allergic reactions cause feelings of fatigue and depression because of the release of proinflammatory cytokines, proteins released by immune cells rushing to protect an allergic person from pollen or other allergens that have entered the body, says Paul Marshall, a clinical neuropsychologist in the department of psychiatry at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis." One study found a correlation between those with allergies or asthma and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Another study found a link between exposure to allergens and cognitive-emotional symptoms: Another study found that suicide rates peak during allergy season in the spring: And the following Scientific American article discusses mental health and immunity:

Aspartame (the Artificial Sweetener)

According to the linked article: "A study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in 1994 demonstrated that 30 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of aspartame each day increased the severity of symptoms for patients with a history of depression. These symptoms increased over a course of only seven days. Reactions were so severe that the study was halted by the International Board of Review."

Autoimmune Triggers

Autoimmunity may potentially play a role in changing behavior and mental health in a variety of ways.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA can be found in a wide variety of plastic products--including plastic water bottles, some food packaging, and dental fillings. Scientific American reports in the above linked article that researchers: "found that the more BPA children were exposed to in the womb, the more anxious, depressed and hyperactive they were at three years old and the more difficulty they had con­trolling their emotions and inhibiting behaviors." (see also: Another study found that "Kids who get dental fillings made using BPA are more likely to have behavior and emotional problems a few years later..." And another study found that: "Mice exposed to BPA just aren’t as social as other mice." Yet another study found BPA linked to learning and memory problems in exposed zebra fish: BPA has also been linked to increased anxiety: Another study found the damage from low-dose BPA could be generational: "low-dose prenatal BPA exposure induces lasting epigenetic disruption in the brain that possibly underlie enduring effects of BPA on brain function and behavior." EcoWatch reported "Early Exposure to BPA Linked to Anxiety and Hyperactivity in Boys":

Brominated Vegetable Oil (in some Soft Drinks)

Dr. Mercola writes in the above linked article: "Bromine is known to act as a central nervous system depressant, and can trigger a number of psychological symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms. In fact, in an audio interview, physician Jorge Flechas reported that, between 1920 and 1960, at least 20 percent of all hospital admissions for "acute paranoid schizophrenia" were a result of ingesting bromine-containing products." A study on brominated vegetable oil and behavioral changes can be found here:

Corexit Oil Dispersant/BP Oil Spill Chemicals

The linked video about BP Oil Spill clean-up worker, Jorey Danos, examines how the chemicals he was exposed to affected his physical and mental health. Concerns have also been raised about those chemicals' link to suicide:

Diet Soft Drinks

The above link is to the American Academy of Neurology article: "Hold the Diet Soda? Sweetened Drinks Linked to Depression..."

Economic Environment During Infancy

According to the above linked Science Daily article, the economic environment during infancy is linked with "Substance Use, Delinquent Behavior in Adolescence." Is this because of toxic-stress? Decreased access to better quality food? Increased exposure to cheap toxic products and toxic housing? More research on the topic would be helpful.

Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMF) (from Cell Phones, WiFi, Etc.)

According to the above linked abstract: "Neurobehavioral disorders are increasingly prevalent in children, however their etiology is not well understood. An association between prenatal cellular telephone use and hyperactivity in children has been postulated, yet the direct effects of radiofrequency radiation exposure on neurodevelopment remain unknown. Here we used a mouse model to demonstrate that in-utero radiofrequency exposure from cellular telephones does affect adult behavior. Mice exposed in-utero were hyperactive and had impaired memory as determined using the object recognition, light/dark box and step-down assays. Whole cell patch clamp recordings of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs) revealed that these behavioral changes were due to altered neuronal developmental programming. Exposed mice had dose-responsive impaired glutamatergic synaptic transmission onto layer V pyramidal neurons of the prefrontal cortex. We present the first experimental evidence of neuropathology due to in-utero cellular telephone radiation. Further experiments are needed in humans or non-human primates to determine the risk of exposure during pregnancy." And this links to a 2012 PDF summary of research about EMF and behavior: You can find information about another study about cell phone use during pregnancy here: Also check out the study: "Association between Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields from High Voltage Transmission Lines and Neurobehavioral Function in Children." And check out the videos "What is digital dementia?" and "Dr. Hugh Taylor discussing Yale research showing ADHD like behavior and brain changes from cell phone exposure in mice" You can also check out the study "Analysis of emotionality and locomotion in radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation exposed rats" Here is a link to a list of studies about EMF and depression and suicide:

Exercise (Reported to be a Positive Influence)

"Kids who bike, walk to school have better concentration." Also check out this video from Nutrition Facts about exercise and ADHD:

Fish Oil (Reported to Have Postive Effect)

GreenMedInfo reported: "The study which was reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry, found that mice with characteristic bipolar symptoms including being depressed and, when subjected to stress, becoming manic, responded well to the DHA in fish oil."

Flame Retardants

According to the above linked Chicago Tribune article: "Small doses of a flame retardant commonly added to furniture and baby products can trigger obesity, anxiety and developmental problems..." And the following article discusses links between PBDE flame retardants and ADHD: Also see:

Fluorinated Tap Water

The above linked article reports: "A New York organization whose members are raising alarms about the damage from fluoride in America’s water supplies says a government study available online suggests the additive can be blamed for a multitude of problems stemming from thyroid imbalances, including cardiac disease, depression, constipation, fuzzy thinking and fluid retention."

Food Dyes

The above linked article asks: "Is it possible that artificial colors added to our food could be causing behavioral problems in children? Concerns about synthetic food dyes led many manufacturers in Europe to stop using then. But as CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist reports, the dyes are used here in everything from cereal to crackers to toothpaste." Some concerned consumers have started grassroots efforts to demand Big Food companies remove negative-behavior-linked-artificial-colors from processed foods. For example:

Food Intolerances

According to the above linked abstract: "Foods may cause mental and behavioural symptoms by means of a variety of mechanisms. Food allergy is only one of many of these. The paper presents a brief overview of evidence, as of early 1982, concerning cerebral allergy, food addiction, the hypoglycaemias, caffeinism, hypersensitivity to chemical food additives, reactions to vasoactive amines in foods, and reactions attributed to neuropeptides formed from foods as causes of mental symptoms, with particular reference to psychiatric patients." The following study discusses food sensitivities and ADHD: This links to the NPR story "Study: Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs" and the study upon which it was based:

Fruits & Vegetables (Reported to Be a Positive Influence)

According to the above linked Futurity article: "Happiness and mental health are highest among people who eat seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day..." Another article on the topic here: Another study found a link between optimism and carotenoid concentrations. Carotenoids are found in vegetables: Dr. Michael Greger spoke about "Fighting the Blues With Greens?" here: Perhaps deficiencies caused by not eating enough whole fruits and vegetabls may be related to why a study found that vitamins and minerals may help enhance mood?


The above linked ScienceDaily article reports: "Researchers have seen an increased reaction to stress in animals whose ancestors were exposed to an environmental compound generations earlier. The findings put a new twist on the notions of nature and nurture, with broad implications for how certain behavioral tendencies might be inherited." The chemical used for the research was "vinclozolin, a popular fruit and vegetable fungicide known to disrupt hormones..."

Gardening (Reported to be a Positive Infuence)

Dr. Mercola: "According to a recent survey for Gardeners World magazine3, 80 percent of gardeners reported being “happy” and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners. And the more time spent in the garden, the higher their satisfaction scores—87 percent of those who tend to their gardens for more than six hours a week report feeling happy, compared to those spending less time in their gardens."

Genetic Modification (a Potential for Unintended Consequences)

A study about genetically modified coho salmon suggests that the modified fish were more aggressive than non-modified fish--even though aggression had not been the intention of the genetic manipulation. Researchers conducting a different study comparing GMO-fed pigs to non-GMO fed pigs noted behavioral differences: "When recording the pigs’ weights each week, researchers say that the non-GM pigs were easy-going and generally cooperative, while the GM pigs were noticeably more irritable." How eating genetically modified animals and plants could affect humans (and whether such genetically modified genes could pass to human or animal eaters)--are questions yet to be more independently and thoroughly studied by U.S. bodies with regulatory oversight.




According to the above linked Huffington Post article: "Gluten is ... linked to many psychiatric (vi) and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, (vii) schizophrenia, (viii) dementia, (ix) migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). (x) It has also been linked to autism.(ix)" Elsewhere it was reported that: "A drastic reduction, if not full remission, of schizophrenic symptoms after initiation of gluten withdrawal has been noted in a variety of studies. However, this occurs only in a subset of schizophrenic patients." (see also: and What's more, another study found: "There may be a link between a woman's gluten sensitivity and the risk of her baby developing psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia later on..."

Glyphosate (Monsanto's Widely Used Pesticide that is Allowed in GMO Foods)

"A serotonin deficiency is correlated with violent and irrational behavior, anxiety and depression. Listen to the amazing personality changes when a mother removes GMOs from her son's diet. Jeffrey and Stephanie explain how glyphosate in our food supply affects us in behavioral ways." You can read the study here:

Great-Grandparents, Grandparents, and Parents' Environmental Exposures (Epigenetics)

Researchers in the field of Epigenetics are studying how the environmental exposures (including medications, endocrine disrupting chemicals, stress, and nutrition) of one person might have generations worth of impact on mental health and behavior. Futurity reported that "A male mouse’s stress leaves a lasting impression on his sperm, which gives his offspring a blunted reaction to stress, research shows."

Gut Bacteria

According to the above linked ScienceDaily article: "UCC scientists have shown that brain levels of serotonin, the 'happy hormone' are regulated by the amount of bacteria in the gut during early life." An American Psychological Association article reports: "With a sophisticated neural network transmitting messages from trillions of bacteria, the brain in your gut exerts a powerful influence over the one in your head..." A separate (animal) study linked the heavily used GMO crop pesticide glyphosate to decreases in levels of beneficial bacteria: And this study about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and altered gut bacteria also discusses the link: Another study linked taking dairy with probiotics to emotional changes in women: And this article is called "Gut bacteria and brain function: The challenges of a growing field." You can watch a video about "Gut Feelings: Probiotics and Mental Health" here: Environmental Health Perspectives reported on the importance of the microbiome here: