Research Review: Heredity and Environment – The ADHD Connection

The surge in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children has received a lot of attention over the last few decades.

It is estimated that 6.4 million children aged 4-17, 11% of that age group, have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. While debates about treatments have been widely reported, less attention has been paid to research about the causes of this disorder.

It has been known for some time that many genetic factors may be involved in the development of ADHD. Environmental factors have also been suspected to be triggers, however, and recent research seems to bear this out. This is good news for parents and professionals who otherwise are left with only treatment options but no prevention guidelines.

Multiple universities and medical centers have been involved in considering the contribution of a commonly used pesticide to ADHD diagnosis. Their research investigated pyrethroid pesticides, including deltamethrin, considered to be less toxic for use in golf courses, lawns, and gardens. Their data concluded that children with higher levels of this pesticide in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. What is particularly alarming is that the animals in this study continued to show ADHD symptoms into adulthood, well beyond the time that the pesticides were no longer in their systems.

ADHD diagnosis is often not made until children start attending school. But the symptoms—including difficulty sitting still, paying attention, and following directions—are already evident between 3 to 6 years of age. Further research needs to be done to determine whether pregnant women and young children may be especially affected by pesticide exposure because they are not able to metabolize the chemicals as well.

It is becoming clear that parents and professionals need to consider potential environmental risks for the development of disorders such as ADHD. Research into environmental factors is beginning to provide helpful information, and studies such as this point to the need to be proactive and limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals as much as possible.

Richardson, J.R., Taylor, M.M., Shalat, S.L., Guillot, T.S., Caudle, W.M., Hossain, M.M…MIller, G.W. (2015). Developmental pesticide exposure reproduces features of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The FASEB Journal ,29(5), 1960-1972.

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