Why our kids need detox support, more now than ever before

Why our kids need detox support, more now than ever before

 -by Dr. Jackie Kirihara, ND

From glyphosates in cereals, pesticides on fruits and vegetables, toluene in candles, and the traffic noise we can hear inside our homes, environmental toxins are a part of our families' daily lives. Infants and children have disproportionately greater exposure than adults to environmental chemicals, while at the same time are exquisitely sensitive to these exposures because they are poorly equipped to metabolize toxic compounds. Children’s behaviors, physical characteristics, and unique developmental changes throughout growth, all contribute to their susceptibility to increased toxic-burden. Children breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food per kilogram of body weight than adults do creating a disparity in the presence of navigating environmental toxins within our own family.


So, why are our children so susceptible?



From before we even conceive, our children are vulnerable to environmental toxins. Parental exposures before conception can result in an array of adverse reproductive effects ranging from infertility to spontaneous abortion, as well as genetic damage that can lead to a viable, though defective, fetus. The ova forming within the fetus of the future mother are affected by exposure from both her grandmother and her mother.



During pregnancy the fetus can be impacted by both historic and gestational maternal exposures. The placenta is a semipermeable membrane, meaning that it allows some things through and prevents others. In the category of molecules that can cross the placental barrier are fat-soluble compounds, low-molecular-weight compounds and other compounds like lead. While the placenta provides many crucial functions in supporting the developing fetus and is able to provide some detoxification, it has been found to only be able to handle low concentrations of toxicants. The changes that occur in pregnancy to support the growth and development of the fetus also lead to mobilization of toxicants, including lead from the mother’s bones, or PCBs from the mother’s fat cells. There are also other environmental exposures outside of what can be passed through the placenta to the fetus, and these include heat, noise and ionizing radiation.  For example, this is the reasoning behind the recommendation to avoid hot tubs or saunas during pregnancy.


The impact these environmental exposures have on the fetus while still “safe” in the mother’s womb can depend on what stage of development the fetus is in at the time of exposure. Between the third and sixteenth week of pregnancy, this is the most concentrated time of organ development, and an environmental toxin exposure during this period can disrupt large-scale structure of organs, which often results in physical malformations. Aside from the particular timing of exposure, in general, the fetal brain is particularly vulnerable because it lacks a blood brain barrier or detoxification processes. As we begin to learn more about this vulnerability, we are finding more specific underlying causes for the rise in autism spectrum disorder including acetaminophen use throughout pregnancy.



From infancy through childhood, there are many inherent and extrinsic characteristics of their world that make kids particularly vulnerable and more susceptible to environmental toxins.

  • An infant’s respiratory rate is more than twice an adult’s rate
  • A newborn’s skin is highly permeable allowing toxicants to readily absorb
  • In the first six months of life, children drink seven times as much water per kilogram of weight than an adult does
  • Lactation mobilizes previously stored fat-soluble toxins which then can contaminate breast milk
  • From the ages of one to five, children consume three to four times more food per kilogram of weight than an adult does
  • Our “picky eaters” with restrictive food patterns lead to greater exposures to contaminants unique to certain foods that often dominate their diets
  • Children’s absorption of chemicals though the gastrointestinal route is up to forty times higher than adults
  • The liver plays a major role in metabolism, but due to the developmental changes that occur in the liver’s metabolic capability it can lead to varied sensitivity to toxins

As children age, changes in their physiology and body composition affect the absorption, distribution, storage, metabolism, and excretion of chemicals.


When we say environmental toxins, what are we really talking about?

Environmental toxins can include toxins found in occupational settings, in homes or schools, through materials used for hobbies, in our food supply or in the materials we used for food preparation, in vaccinations, in the air we breathe, noise, and so much more. Here are a few common toxins most of us are exposed to in our daily lives:

Heavy metals: Some heavy metals, such as magnesium or zinc, have very important roles in the function of our cells, but metals including lead, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, and others have no roles in human physiology and can be toxic at even trace levels of exposure. Often these “harmful” metals compete with nutrients that our body relies on and can directly influence behavior by impairing mental and neurological function, alter neurotransmitter production and utilization, and numerous other metabolic body processes. With lead exposure or consumption, storage of this metal replaces the natural and important storage of calcium in the bones and teeth.

Pesticides: There are more than 20,000 pesticide products with nearly 900 active ingredients. Even though the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits for how much of a pesticide can remain on food, they are still present. Carbamates, organophosphates, chloroacetanilides, and triazines are a few. Neurotoxicity associated with an overabundance of pesticides can include fatigue, brain-fog, weakness or headaches.

Air Pollution: Natural gas leaks, noise, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), smoke, and asbestos make up most air pollution that may invade our outside and inside environments.

         VOCs: One key VOC is benzene, which is a colorless at room temperature gaseous substance that has a sweet odor and can be from volcanoes, forest fires, motor vehicle exhaust, glues, paints, furniture wax and detergents. Inhalation of VOCs can cause drowsiness, dizziness, tremors, and irregular or rapid heart rate. Other VOCs include toluene, xylene, phenol, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride and PVC.

         PAHs: There are two types of PAHs: low-molecular-weight and high-molecular-weight. An example includes benzopyrene, which is a high-molecular-weight by-product of carbon combustion. This is the PAH that is found in grilled food and tobacco smoke and is identified to be carcinogenic.

Persistent Organic Compounds: These are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation through chemical, biological and photolytic processes. They have been proven to be toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. Some examples include polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, by-products of many industrial processes known as dioxins, and other related organochlorine pesticides, like DDT. 


Detoxifying our children

After reviewing all of the ways that our children are so vulnerable and all of the toxins that our children can be exposed to on a daily basis, it may feel as if eating even one strawberry not properly rinsed may lead to severe illness. However, we must remember that our bodies are resilient and there are many efforts we can take to support our body’s detoxification and clearance of these toxins.

First, we can work to identify and minimize our child’s exposures:

Our children rely on adults to protect them from environmental exposures like tobacco smoke, sunlight, pesticides in the home, excessive noise, and any occupational exposures that may be brought home from other members of the family.

Ways to minimize your child’s exposure is first to understand where the exposures are coming from. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for learning more about pesticides and how to access cleaner food for your family, topical toxins in skin care products, healthy cleaning products and more.

  • Consume organic, pesticide free, non-GMO, grass fed and free of added hormone foods.
  • Filter the water that your family drinks
  • Review the cleaning products that you use in your home
  • Purchase toys that are free from harmful varnishes, paints, and limit plastics
  • Filter the air that is circulated in your home

Secondly, we can support major detoxification organs:

  1. Skin: Our skin is our largest organ of detoxification, which is mostly excreted through sweating. Encouraging your child to get their bodies moving, spending time outside, and engaging in active games is a great way to access this form of detoxification. Also, make sure to bathe or shower after to help finish the process.*Be aware of what’s in the products you apply to your child’s skin
  1. Liver: The liver is the body’s primary internal filtration organ, that converts toxins in the blood into waste products to be excreted in the stool or urine. In order for the liver to carry out all of the reactions needed to complete both phases of detoxifications, many nutrients are required. From most of the B vitamins, to amino acids and glutathione, these nutrients need to come from a diverse diet.
    • Glutathione can be sourced in cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or kale
    • A diverse diet rich in polyphenols and b vitamins, found in plants, berries, peas, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and flaxseeds support liver detoxification processes
    • There are herbal protocols and supplements to support liver health

In order for the detoxification process through the liver to be successful, the toxins need to be excreted in the stool and urine.

  1. Digestive Tract: To support proper excretion of the toxins the liver has pulled out from the blood, regular and complete bowel movements is crucial. At least one bowel movement a day proves that you or your child is not reabsorbing toxins, because if stool is sitting in the colon the toxins can be reabsorbed back into the blood stream. Ways to support regular bowel movements can include:
    • Supporting a healthy and robust microbiome by consuming fermented foods, soluble and insoluble fiber, and probiotics food sources
    • Consuming naturally laxative foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, figs, leafy green vegetables, oatmeal, chia seeds, oranges, and more
    • Encouraging physical activity and hydration 
  1. Kidneys: Most toxin testing is completed by evaluating what toxins are found in urine. To support appropriate excretion of toxins through urine, there needs to be sufficient hydration.                      

What could poor detox or heavy toxin burden look like in your child? 

There continues to be more research and case studies that emerge regarding signs and symptoms associated with environmental toxin overload or poor detoxification in our kids. With so many routes of exposure, other lifestyle impacts, and variation in each individual child’s physiology, knowing exactly what is a symptom or sign due to environmental toxins can be challenging. In general, if you are noticing abnormal behavioral changes, elevated agitation, sensory processing challenges, persistent coughs, or spontaneous seizures, testing for environmental toxin load should be a part of your child’s evaluation. 


Some environmental toxin exposures are associated with particular symptoms:


Pesticides: Persistent headaches, blurred vision, drooling, dizziness, nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, confusion, and weakness. Very high exposures can cause paralysis, tremors or convulsions, and loss of consciousness.

Volatile Organic Chemicals: Eye and respiratory tract irritation, persistent headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and impaired memory. 

Heavy Metals: Anemia, poor appetite, weight loss, neurotoxicity, developmental delays, lower cognitive function, attention deficits, learning disabilities, high blood pressure, behavioral disorders, tremors, memory problems, changes to vision or hearing. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal heart rhythm, and “pins and needles” sensation in hands and feet.

High mercury exposure to a developing fetus can cause premature births, low birth weights, decreased mental ability, or reduced growth. 

Flame Retardants: endocrine disruptor and developmental effects. 

Formaldehyde: eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, and asthma exacerbations. 

PFA’s: thyroid dysfunction, elevated cholesterol, abnormal uric acid levels, increased rates of kidney and testicular cancers in adults. 

Polychlorinated Biphenyl’s (PCB’s): endocrine disruptors.


Find a skilled provider

Lastly, seeking care from a practitioner to complete toxin testing to more specifically identify the unique toxins and treatments to clear your child’s body efficiently. A skilled practitioner can also identify dietary deficiencies that can increase absorption of toxins. For example, common in kids ages two to six, iron and calcium deficiencies can increase lead absorption within the small intestine. This care is not limited to children after symptoms have begun, but can start with preconception screening and care. It's never too early to reduce the toxic load our children are carrying.