The causes of ADHD in children are not black and white.
There are so many variables and interactions between every factors. It is very difficult to tease out the exact causes of ADHD. But one thing for sure is that there is no one simple solution to the treating ADHD. That is the reason why many children with ADHD do not response well to the medications. Most ADHD medications target only a few biochemical pathways to improve the symptoms. However, it does not completely remove the root cause of the problem, whatever it is.
A simple analogy to illustrate the idea of medication for ADHD is stepping on a piece of broken glass. You can take loads of pain killer to numb the pain on your foot, but as long as the piece of broken glass remains in your foot, the pain remains.
Same in the case of ADHD, you can try all kinds of ADHD medication. But if the root cause remains, and so will the symptoms. Unfortunately, the root cause of ADHD is not as clear-cut or obvious as the piece of broken glass. Some detective work is required in more cases along with some experimentation.
Children with ADHD are known to have nutrient deficiencies such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc and selenium and others.
Premature or underdeveloped Prefrontal Cortex
I remember going to a parent orientation at my daughter’s school prior to start of the school year. And one of the topics discussed was that at 7th grade, children’s prefrontal cortex is still not fully matured. I found this really interesting. I completely did not expect to hear “prefrontal cortex” as a topic during a 7th grade parent orientation. Well, of course, this is one of the most prestigious school in Honolulu and dealing with demanding parents, the school has to be ready for the parents’ high expectations. The school is also very into child development.
At the same, I have to wonder are we, as a society, over-diagnosing ADHD without giving any considerations for the child’s natural personality.
The other day I saw a boy for his picky eating behaviors. According to parents, he prefers to eat only junk foods - chicken nuggets, pizzas, hot dogs, etc. Well, you got the idea. His parents also told me the child is recently diagnosed with ADHD. During the visit, dad raised his voice at the 5-year-old for him to sit still, and complaining that he did not take his medication this morning. To me, the child seems like a normal 5-year-old boy squirming in a chair. He did not get out of his chair during the 30-minute visit or run around the room like other children with ADHD that I've seen before. I feel sorry for the boy being scolded by the dad for just squirming in the chair, and being labeled as ADHD because he has super strict parents.
Related article: ADHD Brain
Environmental toxins are everywhere. We live in a giant pool of pollution everyday. The air is filled with smoke, fog, smog. And if you live in Hawaii like me, you’ll also have “vog” (a special blend of volcanic smoke and fog). Just thinking of it takes my breath away (as in my asthma symptoms). Water contaminated with industrial waste and sewer. Food tinted with toxic preservatives, colorings, flavorings. If your child takes medications, that’s another form of chemical assault. This is tough enough environment for anyone with great detoxification and immune system. Children with autism, ADHD and other developmental disorders have a generally below par immunity and detoxification system. Thus, these environmental toxins affect them more than others.
Don't forget these children are exposed to many toxic chemicals even before they take their first breath outside their mother's protective bodies. In fact, one of the risk factor of ADHD is prenatal tobacco and pesticide exposure. Children born to mother who smokes or exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
Don't forget mercury and lead poisoning also increase chance of ADHD and other comordities. Buildings constructed before 1978 maybe contaminated with lead paints and pipes. Check with your local planning permit branch or check with your condominium association to find out more.
Food Allergy and Sensitivity
Children with ADHD frequently have hidden food allergy or intolerance. The reason why I use the word “hidden” is because these allergies or intolerances are difficult to identify. Most standard blood tests for allergy do not detect these. Symptoms of these hidden allergies do not show up right away. Days later when symptoms finally do show, it’s too late to figure out which food you’ve consumed had triggered the symptoms.
With some probing, investigation and mom’s instinct, you may be able to figure out a few culprit.
My daughter has always complained of stomachache, and frequently she’ll ask questions like “Mommy, what does it mean when your poopy is green?” Hmmm…She loves milk, but the most she’ll drink is 3 cups, that’s all. But I started to notice that every time she has 3 cups of milk, she’ll complain that she bottom hurts and burns. So I cut out milk from her diet. Of course, she is not happy about that. She loves eating Oreo cookies with milk. She would ask for cow’s milk after we took it out from her diet. Finally, she admits that her belly does not hurt as much as when she stopped drinking milk.
With milk out of the picture, she is still having stomachache despite taking probiotics diligently for years. My instinct tells me she is sensitive to gluten too, just like me. She loves noodles in any form and shapes, except rice noodle, the one that is the gluten-free. She’s not big sandwich person. I still have not remove gluten completely from her diet to see any changes. But I know it will.
Related article: Gluten and ADHD Connection
You see how the child with ADHD started with less than perfect detoxification system, sensitivity to food due to poor immunity, a premature prefrontal cortex that is not regulating well, and, of course, the not so bright nutritional status because of limited food choice. All the child needs is the environmental flip to tip things over, which manifests itself as hyperactivity, difficulty focusing, impulsiveness, learning disability. You name it.
The way I look at it is that everything we're born with we cannot change. And just because you are born with disadvantage on your side, does not mean that is your destiny. There are still many things you can do to change your fate. There are ways to improve your child's nutritional status, ways to improve immunity and detoxification, and avoid toxins as much as possible by choosing organic products. All you need is an open-minded and explore what works for your child. You are your child's advocate, not your child's teacher or your child's pediatrician.
Related article: ADHD Symptoms or Something Else?