Understanding the ADHD Brain

The ADHD Brain

How is the ADHD brain different from a normal brain?

The conventional medical views attention deficit hyperactive disorder as a biological disease or disorder caused by dysfunctions in the brain – specifically, a deficiency in key neurotransmitters.

This is the basis or rationale for using ADHD medications that supposedly alters the brain neurochemistry to reduce ADHD symptoms.

A medical doctor will probably tell you that the ADHD brain is deficient in two neurotransmitters – dopamine and norepinephrine, which are chemical signals that the brain uses to communicate between brain cells.

Dopamine is associated with mood, risk taking, impulsivity, and reward. Norepinephrine is believed to moderate attention, arousal, and mood.

It has been shown that defects in receptors genes and transporter proteins of neurotransmitters play an important role in creating the abnormal functions of an ADHD brain.

If there is a problem within the process of getting these neurotransmitters to their destination, the brain is unable to function optimally.

Researchers also discovered that children with ADHD typically have smaller prefrontal lobe (10% smaller). This is the portion of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, and solving problems. This may be the cause of inattentive behavior, impulsivity, and over-stimulation.

There’s also research showing that a problem with the electrical impulses needed to release the neurotransmitters may be to blame.

Alternative health care practitioners may further explain the deficiency in neurotransmitters is due to problems, such as brain hemisphericity, delayed brain development and sensory integrative disorder.

Brain Hemisphericity

Researchers have discovered that children with ADHD have right hemispheres that are weaker than the left. The normal brain can generally activate the right and left hemispheres of the brain effortlessly. The left brain tends to be the accelerator of the body, whereas the right brain is the “brake” system. If the right brain is the “brakes” of the body and the brakes cannot be applied, we, literally, have a runaway nervous system, which manifests itself as allergies, overactive immune system, hypersensitivity reactions and emotional instabilities.

Related article: Hemisphericity explained eloquently in this article.

A Delayed Development of Brain Structure and Function

An imaging study done by researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has revealed that the brain of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has a three year delay in maturity, and the pattern of development remains normal as other children without ADHD.

This basically means the ADHD brain’s development is behind actual age. So a ten years old child demonstrating ADHD behaviors might have parts of his brain functioning at the level of a six year old, which is why he or she has the attention span and impulsivity of a six-year-old.

The delay in ADHD was most prominent in regions at the front of the brain’s outer mantle (cortex), which important for the ability to control thinking, attention and planning.

Other than the delayed maturation in the ADHD brain, the brains of children with or without ADHD showed a similar back-to-front wave of brain maturation with different areas maturing at different times.

Problems with sensory processing and integration

As a result of brain hemisphericity and brain developmental delay, a child with ADHD tends to have issues processing sensory information. They either feel too much (hyperactive) or don’t feel enough (hypoactive). This explains the fidgeting and hyperfocusness with electronic stimulation.

In summary, the ADHD brain basically is an underdeveloped brain, just like any other developmental delays that we see all the time.

Some babies walk early, some walk later. Some speak early, and some need more help with speaking. My daughter had speech delay as toddler. She did not have her first word until 18 months of age. And her first word is “apple”, her favorite food.

She needed speech therapy for the first few years of her life and her intelligence, obviously.

The varying degree of maturation rate in the ADHD brain may present problems with functions and skills. Some maybe corrected with drugs to manipulate the neurotransmitters, different parenting skills, brain remodeling therapies, such as yoga, biofeedback, Luminosity or Brain Gym.

Knowing that ADHD is more of a collective term for symptoms rather than an actual diagnosis, we should focus treatment on correcting the underlying cause.

We can fix this with good food and nutrition and some supplements.

First of all we need a good healthy balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is an importance component of brain tissue.

Proper nutrition also ensure adequate energy to support brain function, growth and development.

Other dietary supplements that boost neurotransmitters and increase blood flow to the brain, such as ginseng and gingko biloba, may be included.

Also remember, ADHD symptoms can also be triggered by many other environmental factors, life stressors, nutrient deficiencies and biochemical imbalances, and the ADHD brain is just the manifestation of the real underlying causes.

Author: Anna

I'm a board-certified Pediatric Nutritionist, who takes care of medically-fragile infants and children in the US Defense System; I'm mother of a teenager and a real estate investor. I love spending time with friends and family playing tennis, golf, hiking and stand-up-paddling. And we live in Honolulu, Hawaii.