Cranky Kids- Medication?

Dr. Tieraona Low Dog

Prescription drugs for cranky children? A very concerning trend that fails to take into account the role of the environment.

— Tieraona Low Dog, M.D.

I read a very disturbing article in the New York Times the other day about the rising trend of prescribing antipsychotics and antidepressants to children 2 and younger. Almost 20,000 prescriptions for risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel) and other antipsychotic medications were written in 2014 for children 2 and younger, while 83,000 prescriptions were written for Prozac in this same age group, up 23 percent.

Dr. Martin Drell, former president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, said he was “hard-pressed to figure out what the rationale would be” for the prescriptions. Well, for one thing we overprescribe medications because the prescription pad is frequently the quickest and most accessible tool.

Parenting is hard and some children have difficult temperaments. They don’t come with an instructional manual! But my biggest concern is that we simply write this off as big pharma, lack of access and numbers of pediatric behavioral specialists, poor parenting, bad diet, lack of play, or other legitimate contributors, and ignore the growing body of evidence showing that many neurotoxicants in our environment are incredibly dangerous to the brain/nervous systems of infants in utero and during the first few years of life.

Neurodevelopmental disabilities now affect millions of children and are increasing in frequency. In 2014, in the Lancet Neurology, researchers wrote “Strong evidence exists that industrial chemicals widely disseminated in the environment are important contributors to what we have called the global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity.”

Like the canary in the coal mine, the rise in poor attention, aggressive behavior, seizures and autism, could be very well due to a tragic interplay of our genes and our environment, affecting some of us more than others. It is almost impossible to truly assess the true impact this chemical soup has on our DNA.

So when and where it is reasonable and possible, we should learn how to reduce our exposures to potentially dangerous toxins, particularly during pregnancy and early childhood. And we should insist that no new manmade chemicals be allowed into the environment without thorough vetting for safety, something that has not been required for the more than 80,000 chemicals currently in our environment.


Here are Five Ways to Reduce Toxic Exposures:

1. Do not microwave food in polycarbonate plastic containers, which can release bisphenol A (BPA) an endocrine disruptor. Whenever possible, purchase food fresh or in glass. Many canned foods are lined with BPA that leaches into the food over time. Check this list from Mother Nature Network to see which companies do NOT use BPA in their cans.

2. Avoid or limit consumption of oily fish, as they accumulate mercury, lead, DDT and PCBs in their fats. Use this seafood calculator to find just how much and what kind of seafood is safe for you to consume.

3. Limit use of personal care products with strong smells and artificial ingredients, many contain endocrine disrupting phthalates. Look for “fragrance free”, “phthalate free” or no synthetic fragrances on the label. Check outSkin Deep to find out what is in your personal care products.

4. Purchase organic produce when possible and always thoroughly wash your produce to reduce exposure to pesticide and microbial contaminants. And use a water filter to ensure that you are removing toxins and phthalates. You can learn more about what produce is high and low in pesticides, as well as learn more about home water filters from the Environmental Working Group. 

5. Whenever possible, use green cleaning products and integrated pest management techniques for dealing with rodents or other pest problems. Teach children not to touch flea and tick collars if used on pets. Always keep all household products away from children.


Additional Reading and Resources: If you are interested in reading the NYT article, please visit:

Grandjean P, Landrigan P. Neurobehavioral effects of developmental toxicity. Lancet Neurology 2014; 13(3):330-338