What Causes ADHD?
The cause of ADHD is unknown!
We do not know what causes ADHD. But we do know that ADHD is a disorder that occurs when the brain develops differently. And we know at least some of those differences. There is usually a more equal balance in the size of the right and left sides of the frontal lobs, there is a problem with either dopamine production or dopamine use in the areas of the brain that deal with executive function, and there are issues with the areas of the brain that support the brain’s abilities to focus, deal with time, and inhibit behavior that may be deemed inappropriate.
Though many suggestions have been made regarding the cause of this different development, almost as many have been disproved, and the few remaining are still being questioned.
A growing body of evidence tells us that ADHD has a genetic element. Whether this genetic component is a heritable difference in the genome that causes the different development or whether it is a heritable susceptibility to this different development is still not known.
Studies of the frequency of ADHD in twins who were separated by adoption and raised in different families have shown that genetics and heritability do indeed play a role in the development of ADHD, though what that role is has been slow to reveal itself.
There is hope. More is being learned every day in this field of study and with each revelation, ADHD becomes more of a known entity and less of a mystery.
It is sufficient to say that the genetic component is the focus of study in current research and once that component is understood, other factors that may or may not affect the development of the human brain with regard to ADHD can then be more readily identified and studied in the light of this knowledge.
In the interim, it is a good idea to identify some of the things that have been studied and dismissed by science. This should be done in order to add weight to the argument against these erroneous causes. Hopefully this will stop the spread of misinformation that still permeates this field and misleads many who are sincerely searching for answers and hope in dealing with this insidious and persistent disorder.
You are not necessarily a bad parent
The first thing that needs to be dismissed is the idea that ADHD is the result of bad parenting. This is readily refuted as ADHD occurs as frequently among all children regardless of the quality of parental ability present in their lives.
It is known that numerous social factors such as incessant family conflict and poor child-rearing practices, while not causing the condition of ADHD, may complicate the course of ADHD and its treatment and will most certainly exacerbate symptoms and stress.
And then there is this food for thought
The idea that diet or food additives are the cause of ADHD has also been suggested. If this were the case, then all people would have ADHD and the diagnosis would be that ADHD is normal. Since roughly 15% of the population has ADHD but a significantly larger percentage of the population consumes food without concern for the additive or sugar content, the numbers simply do not add up.
There may be a connection between the effects of sugar and/or additives and some type of genetic or inherited difference that makes these food components decrease and diminish brain development, but since that would be dependent on determining the difference that makes a person susceptible, it is not worth pursuing until such a susceptibility has been identified. And if this were the case, then that difference would most likely be genetic. And since genetics and heritability is currently under the microscope, this will eventually become known.
It should also be noted that no studies have been done to date, that we are aware of, that show a lack of ADHD occurrence in those whose diets have been sugar and additive free, nor, as far as we know at this time, have there been any studies that have included a cross section of diets.
At one time, it was suggested that a lack of Omega 3 fatty acid might have been to blame for ADHD development, but studies again have shown that this is not likely, ADHD has repeatedly shown itself to have a relation with heritability and diet is not an inherited factor, so this connection to Omega 3 fatty acids is likely not true either.
Omega 3 fatty acids are very much desired in the diet of children and youth, however, and do in fact aid in brain development, so it is always a good idea to see that a child gets the minimum daily requirement of this vitamin. It might be even more important for a child who has been diagnosed with, or shows symptoms of ADHD as there is no research that suggests that the impact of ADHD can not be lessened by the administration of adequate amounts of Omega 3. But this is not a cure, merely a hopeful treatment, and once the person with ADHD has reached the age of 30, brain development has been completed.
We’re not done with parenting and diet yet …
Having dismissed these two possible causes as not valid, it should be noted that poor diet and lack of parental attention will quite readily exacerbate ADHD symptoms. This may possibly have been the driving impetus behind the original erroneous deductions that pointed fingers at these two concepts as causes.
As part of the course of treatment for anyone with ADHD, a good diet will go a long way to alleviating some of the intensity of symptom manifestation. For children and youths who show signs of ADHD, parental attention and understanding of the issues of ADHD will also help with reduction of symptom impact on young lives and on the lives of the family of the individual as well.
Next up is environment
At one it was thought that ADHD might be caused by maternal smoking. There is no doubt that this situation could exacerbate any disorder and possibly cause some disorders, but the truth again is that ADHD occurs whether maternal smoking is indicated or not. There might well be a statistical increase in maternal smoking in studies of ADHD, but this could just as easily be explained by the increase in the likelihood that the mother also suffered from ADHD and nicotine is one of the substances commonly used by people with ADHD as a form of self-medication. The studies that indicate an increase in maternal smoking among mothers of people with ADHD have not been able to adequately identify which is the cause and which the effect.
Another environmental suspect at one time was lead exposure. Paint no longer contains lead, and the numbers of ADHD diagnoses have not declined so it is safe to suggest now that this was also not a contributing factor in the existence of ADHD.
Like smoking though, we hasten to point out that lead exposure is not acceptable. It clearly causes various health and developmental risks, and so should be avoided at all costs.
And lastly …
The last potential cause of some ADHD diagnoses is actual cerebral insult, or literally, physical brain injury. It is very possible that a physical trauma can cause a similar arrest to the development of the brain as is seen in the more normal development of the ADHD brain. While this may account for a few cases of ADHD, it is entirely possible that the common treatment regimen that works for many people with ADHD will not have the same, or possibly any effect on a case of ADHD that has been trauma induced.