Some of the most common attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms include inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity that could play a major part in a child’s capability to learn and live with others.

People often make the assumption that an ADHD child’s behavior stems from indiscipline, a troubled family life, or even watching excess TV. But according to research, ADHD is in principal a genetic disorder.

However, there are a few environmental factors that could affect ADHD. Let us look at the myths and facts that could cause ADHD:

1. Pesticides – Research indicates a potential link between ADHD and pesticides. A 2010 study in Pediatrics established that children with increased urine levels of organophosphate (a pesticide used on produce) revealed high ADHD rates.

In another study in 2010, researchers found that women with high urine levels of organophosphate were expected to have a child with ADHD.

The studies suggest a possible relation, but cannot prove that pesticides are the reason for causing ADHD. Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt, PsyD, who works with ADHD patients in Los Angeles, recommends consuming organic fruits and vegetables as inorganic ones contain high levels of pesticides.

2. Smoking and drinking during pregnancy – Fetal exposure to alcohol and tobacco is believed to play a part in ADHD. According to research, kids exposed to tobacco smoke prenatally are twice as much likely to have ADHD compared to those who are not.

Mark L. Wolraich, MD, chief of the section of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, believes that fetuses exposed to alcohol are affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, and the symptoms are expressed in ADHD.

3. Exposure to lead – Although lead, a neurotoxin, is removed from almost all homes and schools, but you can still find small quantities of it everywhere.

A study conducted in 2009 suggested that children with ADHD are prone to have increased blood-lead levels compared to other children. The research found that although lead can be toxic to the development of brain tissue and could have continuous effects on the behavior of children exposed to these substances, but it is farfetched to conclude that such exposure could have an impact in the majority of children and teenagers with ADHD.

4. Food preservatives – Most EU countries have banned particular preservatives after a study found evidence of hyperactivity in kids who consumed food that contained mixtures of artificial food colors and sodium benzoate, which is a widely used preservative,

The FDA has stated that food additives are safe only when used properly, and most additives are not needed to be visibly labeled on packaging.

Experts like Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt consider only a minority of kids could benefit by staying away from brightly colored processed foods that are prone to contain more additives. Cutting down on these additives may or may not aid hyperactive behavior, but many factors play a part in ADHD.

5. Sugar – Parents have often assumed that sugar could cause hyperactive behavior, but it’s so wrong. There have been many studies, but none have been able to demonstrate behavior changes due to sugar consumption in kids.

A study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that mothers who believed their kids were given sugar rated their kids’ behavior to be more hyperactive compared to mothers who were told their kids were given a sugar substitute, despite of whether their kids actually consumed real sugar. Cut down on sugar if you are concerned about calorie consumption or dental cavities, but not due to ADHD.

6. Watching Television – There’s no evidence that watching excess TV or playing video games will cause ADHD, while research states that teenagers who spend a lot of time watching TV were prone to more attention problems compared to those who did not. In theory, regular stimulation of television and video games might make it difficult for young people to stay attentive.

7. Poor parenting – Rebellious attitude and bad behavior is often confused with ADHD symptoms and usually it’s the parents who are blamed for their kids’ conduct. However according to the National Resource Center on ADHD (1), there is no hard proof to suggest parenting style could lead to ADHD.

Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt believes that parents who make use of reward and consequence behavior tools, and provide simple set of expectations could help reduce ADHD symptoms.

8. Brain injury – According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (2), children who have undergone particular types of brain trauma may display symptoms parallel to ADHD. As only a small minority of children with ADHD has faced a traumatic brain injury, it is not deemed to be a crucial risk factor.

9. Diet – In the past, food allergies were popularly believed to be the cause of ADHD, but research so far has found no evidence that diet plays a substantial role in ADHD.

However, according to a recent Australian study, particular dietary blocks could affect behavior among adolescents who consumed foods high in fat, refined sugar, and sodium. They were two times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD compared to other children. Further studies have also associated diets lacking in omega-3 fatty acids could lead to ADHD symptoms as they are helpful for brain development,.

10. Genes – There is strong evidence to prove that ADHD is inherited from parents, but not parenting style. Experts say this heritable psychiatric disorder can affect a child with ADHD, especially if a relative has been diagnosed with ADHD. Research among multiple twins also shows that ADHD often runs in families.

A new study by researchers at Cardiff University in Wales established that kids with ADHD are more likely to have missing or duplicated segments of DNA.

1) National Resource Center on ADHD
2) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

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