ADHD, also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a condition that currently affects between 5 and 10% of children worldwide. At this time researchers don’t have a clear answer as to a cause for this disorder but they do understand a portion of how the condition both affects the person and what happens inside the body to produce those symptoms.
Doctors do know that ADHD is not caused by bad parenting, lack of vitamins, too much sugar or swallowing toothpaste. All of those things have negative side effects of their own but ADHD is not one of them. However, children who already experience ADHD may experience a change in symptoms when they ingest certain chemicals in their diet.
Researchers are studying possible causes that do include other medical conditions, learning disabilities, Tourette’s Syndrome, brain structure and a change in brain chemicals or neurotransmitters.
Computer imaging of the brain structures of children and adults who suffer from ADHD will sometimes reveal smaller structures in the basal ganglia and decreased frontal lobe activity as well. Both structures are important in the organization of routine behaviors and impulse control and inhibition of responses to sensory stimulation.
The link between ADHD and neurotransmitters appears to be a strong one. Several studies using PET scans that show the actual functioning of the brain and not just the structures, has confirmed that there is a definite difference in brain function between a group diagnosed with ADHD and those without it.
Specific neurotransmitters have been identified that help to control the organization of thoughts, impulse control and communication between neurons which inhibit responses to stimulation. These are all symptoms of children and adults who experience ADHD.
One of those neurotransmitters is dopamine. An alteration in the balance or use of dopamine in the body has also been linked to Parkinson’s Disease. Dopamine controls emotions, reactions, concentration, reasoning and coordination of movement (all symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease to a greater extent than ADHD). In people with ADHD there is an abnormally low level of the neurotransmitter causing the primary symptoms of inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
Other neurotransmitters that have been implicated in the causative factors of ADHD are epinephrine and serotonin. Researchers have found that stimulant drugs, which increase the levels of these neurotransmitters, will help to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and suggests that complex interactions between them are involved in the causative factors of ADHD.
Each of the neurotransmitters, epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, have specific symptoms that are associated with both high and low levels. However, when those chemicals are not individually high or low making a determination on mixed balances is next to impossible.
Doctors have found that exercise has a profound effect on children and adults with ADHD. Long known for health promotion, exercise programs can also help to modify behavior in the person with ADHD by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters. Exercise has been found to release endorphins, the opiate-classified messengers of our emotional system that elevates mood, increases pleasure and minimizes pain.
Individuals with ADHD and neurotransmitter imbalances have found relief using medication, exercise and behavioral therapy to improve their ability to function in their social situations.
PsychCentral: Neurotransmitters Involved in ADHD
Alternative Health Solutions: Understanding and Combating ADHD with Neurotransmitters
University of Wisconsin: Exploration of Neurotransmitter Levels and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder
University of Kentucky: The Neuropsychopharmacology of Stimulants: Dopamine and ADHD