We all know someone who has been diagnosed ADHD or has a child who has ADHD. Maybe you yourself have ADHD and have been on and off drugs for most of your life. Yet the cause of the terrible disorder has been largely unknown and what is known is a bit fatalistic.
However, I am excited to share some fascinating research on this widely prevalent topic that isn’t at all fatalistic. In fact, it’s liberating and empowering. You will learn surprising factors that contribute to this condition as well as how ADHD relates to gut health.
I. ADHD Is On the Rise
A.D.H.D (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in children. It is often characterized by hyperactivity, impulsive behavior and inability to focus attention. (1)
Americans are the highest consumers of ADHD drugs, consuming 85 percent of the ADHD medications used world-wide. (2)
Recent statistics show that 11 percent of children in the United States ages 4-7 ( 6.4 million children ) have been diagnosed with ADHD. The number of children diagnosed continues to rise as studies show an 18 percent increase from 2008 to 2012. (2,3)
What’s even scarier is that more and more younger children, even toddlers ages 2-3, are now diagnosed with ADHD and are being medicated. Statistics show a 50 percent increase in young children being diagnosed from 2007 – 2008 alone. (3,4)
What may surprise you is that the numbers of adults being diagnosed are now rising even faster than children, having increased 18.9 percent to 53.4 percent from 2008 – 2012. (2)
And we ALL know what typically happens after a diagnosis. Medications are administered to ‘treat’ the symptoms of ADHD. The most common drugs used are Ritalin and Adderall. The problem with prescribing drugs for this neurobehavioral disorder is that drugs are used only to treat the symptoms and not the root cause.
Furthermore, these drugs are VERY risky and potentially dangerous for children as there isn’t much scientific data on what these drugs can do to a developing/growing mind.
Even non-stimulant drugs, alternatives such as Atomoxetine (Strattera) are not much better as they have their own array of unpleasant side effects such as insomnia, dry mouth, cough, decreased appetite, upset stomach, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness etc. (5)
To make matters worse, research shows that Atomoxetine has the ability to not only ignite the expression of 114 genes and but silence 11 other genes. (6)
II. What Factors Contribute to Causing ADHD?
1. Birth by C-Section
As much as Cesarean birth can be a life saving procedure it is often done unnecessarily in our current society. The major issue with C-Section birth is that the child doesn’t pass through the mother’s birth canal. The birth canal is the babies first introduction to bacteria. Before that point, in the womb, the child is in a completely sterile environment. After the child exits the womb the mother’s birth canal supplies the child with the majority of their initial bacteria (7).
A 2014 study from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry states that a child born via C-section has triple the risk of developing ADHD than those born vaginally. (8)
2. Too Little of Absence of Breast Milk
There are countless studies that show the incredible benefits of breastfeeding in a child’s first year or two of life. In this specific study from the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Laura J. Stevens showed that children who were breastfed were considerablely less likely to develop ADHD than those were breastfed for a very short time if at all. She explains how the length of the breastfeeding period also influences the risk of developing this disease. (9)
3. Frequent Ear Infections and Antibiotic Usage
In the same study mentioned above, Dr. Laura J. Stevens from Purdue University also explained how children who battle frequent ear infections and are constantly on and off antibiotics are more susceptible to developing ADHD. (9)
Interestingly enough, ADHD and Depression have much in common. They are both rooted in inflammation and are often treated with anti-depressant drugs instead of diet and lifestyle changes. Inflammation is the root of most all diseases. When chronic inflammation is present in the body, further investigation of the root cause should be done rather than popping a few pills. (11)
Another common factor that is found with children suffering from ADHD is constipation. This is no surprise and many children and adults alike experience a range of digestive diseases.
2013 Journal Pediatrics study shows that children with ADHD were more likely to have constipation than children who didn’t suffer from ADHD. (11)
6. Gluten Sensitivity
Another common symptom often found in individuals with ADHD is Gluten Sensitivity. German researchers published a study that proved that children and adults with ADHD showed significant improvement in mood and behavior when a gluten-free diet was administered. (12)
7. GABA Deficiency
If a child’s gut is imbalanced, not only will the intestinal barrier most often be permeable, but the gut will be unable to produce important brain chemicals which are needed for the brain to function properly.
One of the most vital brain chemicals we all need to function optimally is the neurotransmitter GABA. Research shows that individuals with ADHD often are deficient in GABA. Some experts speculate that a GABA deficiency may even be the cause of ADHD. (13)
8. Food Intolerances/Allergies
Many research studies are showing the powerful impact that diet has on ADHD. Food Intolerances/Sensitivities and Allergies to common Allergen foods are often present in Individual with ADHD. (14)
It is not surprising that many ADHD patients have shown incredible improvement in behavior and ADHD symptoms by following an elimination diet. (14)
III. What Does Gut Health Have to Do With ADHD?
In looking over the 8 factors that are discussed in the previous section, half of the factors have to do with birth and early childhood factors such as C-section births, chronic health issues such as ear infections and over-usage of antibiotics.
All these factors contribute to gut dysbiosis which is when the gut flora is out of balance. This is when pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites far outnumber the beneficial, healthy gut microbes in the gut. An unbalanced gut will then lead to Intestinal Permeability, a.k.a. a Leaky Gut. Leaky Gut causes then causes the gut to be in a constant state of low-grade inflammation which negatively affects the brain. (15)
If an individual’s gut is imbalanced, not only will the intestinal barrier be compromised and permeable, but the gut will be unable to produce important brain chemicals and neurotransmitters NEEDED for the brain to function properly (such as GABA, Serotonin, Tryptophan, Glutamate etc.)
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1.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC. “Mental health in the United States. Prevalence of diagnosis and medication treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder–United States, 2003.” MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report 54.34 (2005): 842.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Data and statistics.” Atlanta, GA: Author. Retrieved from http://www. cdc. gov/ncbddd/adhd/data. html (2013).
6. Lempp, Thomas, et al. “Altered gene expression in the prefrontal cortex of young rats induced by the ADHD drug atomoxetine.” Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry 40 (2013): 221-228.
8. Curran, Eileen A., et al. “Research review: birth by caesarean section and development of autism spectrum disorder and attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a systematic review and meta‐analysis.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 56.5 (2015): 500-508.
14. Pelsser, Lidy M., et al. “Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial.” The Lancet 377.9764 (2011): 494-503.
16. Perlmutter, David. Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain-for Life. Hachette UK, 2015. Print. pp. 92-94