Phenol & Autism

From Dr. Chun Wong:

I’ve blogged before about reducing your child’s toxic load to help alleviate symptoms of autism, to cut the risk of autism in subsequent children and to have a healthier home, and today I’m going to talk about one particular chemical and toxin, phenol.

What is phenol?

Phenol, or carbolic acid, is a chemical that both occur naturally and that can be manufactured. It ranges from being a colorless liquid to being a white crystalline solid and has a distinct sickly sweet or “tarry” smell which is often associated with the smell of hospitals.

Phenol is used in many different products. It is used to make phenolic resins which are used in industries like the automotive, plywood, appliance, nylon and construction industries, and it is also an ingredient in disinfectants like Lysol, antiseptics, cleaning products, medicines, mouthwashes, lozenges and ear and nose drops.

Phenol can also be found in food, as gallic acid and malvin.   

Dangers associated with Phenol exposure

There are many dangers associated with dermal (skin) or oral (ingesting it) exposure to phenol, and also breathing it in. These dangers and health risks include skin irritation, poisoning resulting in muscle weakness, tremors, paralysis, and even respiratory arrest, liver and kidney damage, cardiac toxicity (damage to the heart) and lung damage.

But what has all this got to do with autism?

Autism and Phenol

An intolerance to phenol in food, as gallic acid, has been linked to attention problems and hyperactivity and a malvin intolerance have been linked to autism, MS and epilepsy. High levels of phenol in the diet (and in the environment) are thought to really affect children with autism and problems tolerating foods containing phenol and salicylates are thought to cause the following symptoms:-

  • Hyperactivity
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Red face and ears
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Bedwetting
  • Inappropriate laughter
  • Impulsive or aggressive behavior
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Speech problems
  • Stomach ache
  • Hives
  • Dark circles under the eyes

High phenol foods include bananas, apples, and grapes, and it may be that just avoiding these foods will help autism symptoms. However, some children may need to follow a low phenol diet and also cut environmental exposure to phenol.

Reducing Phenol Exposure

Phenols from food and from the environment can build up in the body causing many symptoms and health problems so it may be wise to follow a low phenol diet and to avoid salicylates, artificial colors, preservatives and flavorings. The Feingold Diet is naturally low in phenol and salicylates, and you can find out more about it at

A child’s exposure to phenols can be reduced also by reducing the toxic load of their environment. Here are some tips to help you do this:-

  • Don’t use Lysol in the home – It contains phenol.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke – Don’t smoke in the home and reduce exposure to tobacco smoke in the environment.
  • Avoid cleaning products and medicines that contain phenol- Start looking at labels.
  • Look for natural alternatives – There are many companies that make “green” or “natural” products that are free from harsh chemicals and toxins, or you could go back to basics and clean with things like lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda! There are some great tips and recipes for natural cleaners at
  • Use HEPA filters on vacuum cleaners
  • Air your home regularly by opening the windows

Whether or not your child’s autism symptoms are eased by reducing the toxic load at home, you will definitely be making your home a safer and healthier environment for the whole family.

The Feingold Diet is a healthy diet with a focus on healthy, natural foods and has been found to alleviate symptoms of autism in many children so it is definitely worth a try. A healthy diet and healthy home is a great start to helping your child’s autism.


Do you use any of the products that Dr. Wong listed?  What are some products alternative products that you’ve found have worked just as well?



One thought on “Phenol & Autism

  • June 23, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I do most of that simply by default, over the years I’ve learned I feel better that way (the HEPA filter is fabulous).  However, I’m allergic to the citrus oils in ‘green’ cleaners, so before you go gung ho out there converting your ways, make sure you don’t trigger asthmas or rashes with the ingredients in ‘natural’ cleaners.

    I’ve run into Dr. Wong’s stuff online, always looking for more ways to feel better.  Until someone literally does a massive fetal study for phenols, I don’t know that this could be considered a cause for autism, but it certainly aggravates my own hypersensitivities.  I worked in a retail store for years and became so allergic to new fabrics and rugs that my eyelids swelled and I lost all my eyelashes and most of my eyebrows, and developed itchy spots around my mouth and nose (which, as any aspie knows, it a high risk highway to cellulitis because scratching and picking become automatic stims).  I went to the dr. constantly (monthly) checking for sinus and bladder infections.  I finally just changed jobs, what a relief.

    Not to punctuate this too highly, but I can’t eat bananas.  I love bananas.  I’ve also learned lately I might be sensitive to salicylates in my diet, too.  Librax withdrawal, are we having fun yet?  Having been born with severe digestive problems and lived with them all my life, I’m discovering (to my delight) that nutritious things like sweet potato fries and avocados on my sandwiches are a beautiful thing.

    I would highly advise any parent of an autistic child looking into this.


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