ADHD: 5 Surprising Causes

ADHD: 5 Surprising Causes
ADHD: 5 Surprising Causes

ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is on the rise. ADHD is diagnosed in 3 to 7 percent of school-aged children, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the most diagnosed childhood mental health problem, identifying causes and treatment of ADHD is imperative.  Here is the most up-to-date list of potential causes of ADHD.

1. Food Dyes: The FDA is reviewing evidence that suggests artificial food dyes may exacerbate attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids that have the condition.  The only role of these food dyes is to make foods look more appealing, so it should be pretty easy to remove them if the FDA finds adequate evidence that they are indeed harmful to children.

2. Western Diet: recent study suggests that diet may play a role, as it indicated that teenagers with ADHD were more likely to consume a so-called “Western-style” diet. The Western pattern was characterized by a high intake of total fat, saturated fat, sugar, sodium and a low intake of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and folate. Common parts of their diets included take-out, sweets, red and processed meats, refined grains, full-fat dairy and soda  The researchers found that the adolescents who consumed the Western diet were 2.2 times more likely to have ADHD than their counterparts who consumed a healthy diet.

3. Smoking and Lead Exposure: A first-of-its-kind national study has found that pre-birth exposure to cigarette smoke and high levels of lead in children can be linked to higher rates of ADHD in youth. Children who were exposed to both prenatal smoke and registered high lead levels had a greater than eightfold increase in the likelihood of having ADHD.

4. Pesticides: New research suggests there may be a link between children with measurable breakdown products of organophosphates (the most commonly used type of pesticide) in their system and ADHD.

5. Genetics: New research coming out of Cardiff University in Wales is suggesting that chromosomal defects are responsible for ADHD. The study also suggests that those subjects presenting with a mental disability like autism or schizophrenia were twice as likely to also have ADHD.

Most of the 4.4 percent of the adults in the United States who suffer from ADHD use medication to help them get by, but a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that adding cognitive behavior therapy may reap more benefits.

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  • I refuse to believe that any of these things cause ADHD and anuone who endorses such an insane…Look!…a bird!!@

  • my son was diagnosed with adhd when he was 3 yrs old. I cut out all the dyes and the sweets. As he grew and got older I noticed a decrease in his symptoms. It would seem that as soon as he passed the puberty stage, he started to calm down. He was on medications for 10 yrs. I finally took him off it when he was about 15. Amazingly, he started to grow. He is now about 5’8”. I feel if he had not been on this medication, perhaps he would be much taller. Please be aware of the side effects of the medications. No one told me a possible side effect would be stunted growth. He is now a calm, caring, and compassionate 21 year old. I’m so glad I took him off the medication when I did. Medication may be necessary for some children. I found that patience and positive reinforcement helped both of us get through the difficult times. Believe me, it was not easy. We endured many stressful moments but we survived and so can others.

  • I’m an adult with ADHD and was not diagnosed until college. I can say, without a doubt, that the when I get busy with school and work and end up eating a “western diet” rather than my ideal diet, my AHDD symptoms rise considerably. Main culprits being the sugar, white flour & low-fiber. My “ideal” diet is a modified version of the “Eat TO Live ” diet plan by Fuhrman. (However, that diet is almost vegan, so I do work in small servings of lean high-quality meats and yogurt.) I really wish that my parents had taken an active role in my diet as a child. I honestly believe I would have done much better throughout my middle and high school years.

  • @DavidDudley You’re a total idiot. Everything we put in our bodies affects us. How could it not? Sheesh, bet your kids, and you, are on multiple drugs. When will morons like you realize manufactured foods, and drugs, are not about health. They’re about making money.

  • I don’t doubt that there’s lots of things children today are consuming that are severely dangerous for them. Probably why there’s such an increase in autism as well. I agree totally with Jash that greed is the driving force behind putting the public at risk. I thought sure, though, that the article would blame global warming somehow. Hell, it seems to cause everything under the sun, even contradictory things! Glad the article didn’t go down that road.

  • I don’t doubt that there’s lots of things children today are consuming that are severely dangerous for them. Probably why there’s such an increase in autism as well. I agree totally with Jash that greed is the driving force behind putting the public at risk. I thought sure, though, that the article would blame global warming somehow. Hell, it seems to cause everything under the sun, even contradictory things! Glad the article didn’t go down that road.

  • I’ve got a much longer list then this! Stress of the mother while the child is in the womb, neurotransmitter deficiency, etc., etc., etc. The real question then becomes, “What the heck can I do about it?” Because know the cause doesn’t produce an answer.

    Most of these kids can sit and watch a video for hours. Most video games and TV shows are incredibly stimulating visually (think Grand Theft Auto) where lights flash, the scenes change quickly, the graphics are intensely rich. It seems the ADHD brain is quite suited for this level of stimulation. Unfortunately, homework, balancing a checkbook, or becoming surgeon, requires more attention to less stimulation. I’m a former elementary school principal who has a son with ADHD. We tried many interventions, but finally settled on cognitive and behavioral strategies. We used Play Attention ( and ADHD Nanny ( Play Attention uses cognitive strategies with feedback training. It was NASA inspired and actually allowed my son to control the computer by mind alone. Very cool stuff. I was so successful at home, I used the programs at our school with equal great success. Bottom line is, the brain can be trained. As parents and educators, we have to lead and help our kids make the changes they need to succeed.

  • I strongly recommend anyone who’s dealing with ADD/ADHD (autism, bi-polar, depression, dyspraxia, schizophrenia – and imbalances from head injuries, our personal experience) to read British MD Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book, Gut and Psychology Syndrome ( What she has found in her practice is that an imbalance in the microbe population in the gut that encourages growth of the microbes that are NOT healthy for us means those microbes make you crave the foods that feed them, throw off toxins that have extremely significant effects on mental, brain and body health, and she has developed a diet and protocol that can help re-establish the proper balance of microbes in the gut. It’s not short term generally, but my husband went from daily so called “pseudoseizures” (i.e. not epileptic, but other creative ways the brain can effect the body) to not a single seizure in the 6 + months so far he’s been on the diet.

    Reading her work, you understand why the Western diet is so problematic, why exposures to environmental toxins play a role, why there is inconsistency in autism research about whether vaccines are an issue or not, etc. etc. etc.

    There is a reason Hippocrates said “All diseases begin in the gut.”

  • @MirandaLCP Completely true! And, everyday irritability, lethargy, blue moods etc. are improved dramatically by eliminating toxic food ( man-made) and taking high quality full spectrum probiotics. We eat non-food products , including the goop passing as probiotic yogurt and wonder why everyone still feels so bad all the time. Perhaps the day will come when people realize that what came with the earth is what we’re supposed to eat, drink and use as medicine. I rarely meet anyone who isn’t on multiple prescription drugs, suffering the effects, but never questioning or exploring other options. A gas tank filled with water reads full, but you’re not going to go anywhere. Non-food products and drugs fill the stomach, but you’re not going to go anywhere either.

  • No doubt there are several factors at play in the rise of ADHD. I like the Brain Balance approach. It combines dietary changes and academic/ learning interventions for a whole person approach to neuro issues. Their website is certainly worth a read!

  • See, +Alternative reatments for ADHD,” in NJ Natural Awakenings, North Central edition, August 2010, which offers practical hands on solutions for some. ADHD, is sometimes an internal systemic issue and can be resolved.

  • I strongly encourage everyone to read “What Your Doctor May Not Tell you About Children’s Vaccines

    By Stepheanie Cave, M.D, F.A.A.F.P

    this book explains lots of correlations with ADD, Autism and many other child hood disorders correlated with vaccines…

  • My daughter would probably be called ADHD if we had not cut peanuts out of her diet due to a diagnosed allergy. When she eats peanuts/peanut buttter, she gets mood-swingy, CRAZY, unreasonable, nothing-behind-the-eyes, cannot focus, etc. Her other food allergies cause anaphylactic reactions, but the peanut allergy is completely behavioral.

  • @MirandaLCP Does this research/book take into account the recent published findings that there are 3 different ecosystems of gut bacteria that humans can have?

  • As well-meaning as this article is, children who respond to an elimination of the items above do not have ADHD, which is a genetic disorder. There are documented, anatomical differences in the brain in those of us who suffer from it. When an article like this is publish, it really harms children who have ADHD, because others can simply blame a parent for not protecting their children from the western diet, pesticides, dyes, sugar, etc. We are a vegan/vegetarian family who eats only organic and all of us have ADHD. We were never exposed to lead or the other potentially harmful conditions listed in the article.

    Not making this genetic link allows amateurs, many of whom have posted here, make unsubstantiated claims about what causes ADHD. For verified medical expertise, check out Dr. Edward Halliwell is a worldwide specialist on this issue. Also look into CHADD (Children and Adults with ADD), an organization devoted to this issue, also acclaimed worldwide.

  • ADHD can Not be merely genetics. 1 out of nearly 10 children have it now and it was certainly NOT that way 35 years ago. There may be some who have it because of genetics. NMany have it because of internal candida infections. We are supposed to be on the same team. I loved this article and look forward to more. More of it in the mainstream. It is needed. BTW, the vax GMO chemicals to make brains actually look different and grow differently.

  • It is NOT ADHD if it stems from non-genetic causes. There were many fewer diagnoses in previous years. I’m not sure what you mean by the same team, but misinformation hurts kids with ADHD .

    I believe that some of the chemicals mentioned in the article do aggravate cases of ADHD, but they don’t cause it per medical experts who have done long-term studies on the disorder. Again, CHADD and Dr. Halliwell’s site are a great starting point.

  • @Brnd123

    It is well documented and even the physician who wrote the original article describing a possible link between autism and vaccines now proclaims THERE IS NO LINK BETWEEN AUTISM, ADHD AND VACCINES. In addition, during the vaccine witch hunt people suggested it was the mercurial preservative thiomersal that contributed to autism. So over 10 years ago thiomersal was removed as a preservative and autism rates continued to climb. People who do not vaccinate their children and themselves are ignorant and misinformed, and people like Dr. Cave realize their is a fool born every minute that they can sell their sensationalized book too. Finally, for the brilliant minds out there who believe that because something happened to someone in their community or family: Just because two things happen doesn’t suggest, let alone prove, cause and effect. Get informed.

  • @gotit @Brnd123 I agree 100 percent. This anti-vaccination craze is extremely dangerous. Many more children have died because they didn’t get one than were harmed by getting them.

  • This is a popular theory. Teenagers who do not eat western diet may have undiagnosed ADHD. Rates of biologically based mental disorders are thought to be roughly the same all over the world. Rates for mild to moderate depression are less in societies where there is a lot of physical activity, and strong community ties. But rates for illnesses like psychosis, ADHD, bipolar I and II are similar. These conditions are just under diagnosed.

  • @iluvmy9kk As a child’s brains develops, ADHD symptoms will reduce and sometimes come back. 50% of children with ADHD will not have it by the time they grow up. Many of the folk cures are nothing but a natural effect of brain development. Unfortunately, this does not work for many people. ADD over diagnosis is due to medications not being tapered off.


    ADHD is a diagnosis of exclusion – other disorders need to be ruled out that also cause problems with attention.

    Children with developmental coordination disorder may also have attentional difficulties; and this condition can co-occur with ADHD.

    Attentional difficulties arising when one is an adult may be due to anxiety or depression; in seniors, dementia; head injury may also cause attentional difficulties.

    All of these can also occur I children and need to be included in the differential.

    If a child develops attentional difficulties following head trauma, this is not ADHD but an attentional disorder due to a medical problem, traumatic brain injury.

  • The comments show how far we have to go until we get something useful to work with. Clearly, global warming is the true cause of ADHD.

  • ADD/ADHD is entirely genetic. Attempts to blame it on environmental exposures in nonsense. If it was environmental then everybody in the family should show signs of it and that is not the case in most families. ADD/ADHD is a brain disorder. It has been with us forever, probably in the same percentage as we see now. We just diagnose it more.

  • I agree. It is overdiagnosed. The diagnosis can earn a child the right to the meds along with extra test-taking time, etc.

    Even a person without ADHD would be more productive with meds.

  • Items 3 & 5 absolutely. Item 4… possible. 1 & 2 are complete bunk. 2 is correlational- most likely it is backwards. Kids who have ADHD are more likely to eat an unhealthy diet because they are more impulsive- ie impulsive eaters. And their parents probably let this one fall to the wayside when choosing which battles to fight.

    As with most genetic disorders, ADHD requires a genetic predisposition along with environmental triggers.

    Right now ADHD is a behavioral disorder and thus diagnosed by behavioral symptoms. So it is incorrect to say someone doesn’t “really” have ADHD if there is some underlying cause. Just as one person can have lung cancer that was triggered by smoking and a nonsmoker might have it after working in coal mines or another from radiation exposure.

    Giving someone a medication they don’t need does not have the same effects (ie make anyone more productive).

  • @DavidDudley

    I believe that global warming is the cause of ADHD. The rest of the theories here sound really flaky!

  • @danceswithwolves @iluvmy9kk You are 100 percent WRONG, danceswithwolves. ADHD is a permanent condition. Adults often learn to cope with it to varying degrees, but what you spout is no longer believed by a single ADHD expert in this country. This sort of post is a huge disservice to the people who will spend a lifetime coping with this disorder.

  • @danceswithwolves @iluvmy9kk

    This raises an important issue – that of someone “outgrowing” ADHD.

    Once again, ADHD is a symptom based diagnosis. The diagnosis may be made incorrectly and not take into consideration some of the criteria of the disorder, such as symptoms being present in different settings; not being due to other disorders.

    Secondly, children do develop skills for dealing with attentional difficulties. An example is note-taking: where the child learns that by using motoric activity, it helps focusing, as when talking notes by hand in classes.

    Third, there is a maturation of the brain, particularly of the frontal lobes, which is linked to the presence of attentional difficulties. Consider that this maturation takes place around when one can rent a car – namely age 25. This was not based upon concepts of ADHD nor neuroimaging but upon actuarial studies that found higher accident rates among younger drivers.

  • There’s no proof any of these five factors truly matter in influencing ADHD; however, the way they are ‘linked’ in these short descriptions makes them look even more suspect.

  • I could make just as strong an argument that commenting on web-based “informational articles” such as this one contributes to developing ADHD.

  • Dial back society 50,000 years…with the advent of organized living communities, the brain evolved from a high percentage of ADHD to what it is today. The benefits of ADHD in a hunter society need to be researched. ADHD is really nothing more than the brain being wired to need excessive stimulation. A hunter received that mental stimulation, and all was good. As safety emerged through social communities, and task specialization became valuable, the brain adapted.

    ADHD is not a defect, it is just a different configuration with different strengths.

  • @michaelqazqazExcellent point! Remember that ADHD is a disorder which is associated with problems in different settings, often home and school. Take a boy who is constantly scanning the horizon and fidgeting and put him in class with peers, including more compliant girls and try to have him focus on the book on his desk and the result is fireworks. Put the same boy around a campfire thousands of years ago, and just as mom says they need something to eat, this same kid is out spearing some game; a more reflective boy is still sitting around the campfire, perhaps wondering what spear he would use, and where he will go, and what game, and on and on. This advantage is supported by recent research in Kenya. There are numerous genes associated with ADHD, including the dopamine genes. The anthropologists examined polymorphism for two dopamine genes, DRD2 & DRD4, which are likely involved in impulsivity, reward anticipation and addiction These were correlated with measures of nutritional health, such as the body mass index (BMI) among men in north Kenya, namely the Ariaal, one nomadic, the other settled pastoralists. BMI was higher with DRD4/7R alleles among the nomads; but a lower BMI among the settled. The study suggested the DRD4/7R allele may be advantageous among nomadic rather than settled Ariaal men, probably mediated through behavior resulting in a higher frequency of the 7R alleles in nomadic relative to sedentary populations. Eisenberg DT, Campbell B, Gray PB, Sorenson MD: Dopamine receptor genetic polymorphisms and body composition in undernourished pastoralists: An exploration of nutrition indices among nomadic and recently settled Ariaal men of northern Kenya. BMC Evolutionary Biology Volume 8 , 6/10/2008 The complexity of how this may be mediated through behavior is reflected in the comment: “Increased impulsivity, ADHD-like traits, novelty-seeking like traits in, aggression, violence and/or activity levels may help nomads obtain food resources, or exhibit a degree of behavioral unpredictability that is protective against interpersonal violence or robberies. Increased activity levels, if not resulting in increased food access, likely would decrease nutritional stores. The 7R allele might also promote better infant survival depending upon the social and ecological context. Alternatively, these associations may represent some other more basic metabolic influence of DRD4, such as regulation of physical activity in high temperature environments.”

  • @MirandaLCP I came to this conclusion as well. Our daughter had earaches as a toddler and the subsequent rounds of anti-biotics to treat them. She has suffered ever since from food allergies, ADHD, low immunity, chronic fatigue, weight gain, headaches. We’ve been working on a diet to restore gut health, and while it’s too early to declare victory, I’m convinced this is the right path, and that it explains other seeming ‘epidemics’ like autism and metabolic syndrome.

  • I will always give a nice thrust look in to you from my bookmark feed. Coffee I don’t actually comment and don’t like to spend time in typing the comment. But here I have to do this because this deserves a good like.

  • It is such a shame that we have not publicized the major cause of ADHD as of yet. It is so obvious at the same time. There is a rapid increase in ADHD diagnosis at the same time there is a significant decrease in breast feeding. There is no way to replace colostrom in formula or any other substance. Colostrom coats the immunity system and creates a protective barrier within the human system that helps reduce alergies. ADHD is caused by allergies, mostly to foods and food products. If we just get back to feeding our children right from the start, then we will see a decrease in ADHD diagnosis. Formula enhances medical problems throughout a persons life. Why we don’t encourage breast feeding more in our society is baffling!

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