Causes of ADHD: Myths and Facts

Health Writer

When children or adults with ADHD are diagnosed, one of the first questions that come to mind is: "Where did this come from?" or "Did I do something wrong?" Although the exact cause of ADHD is not understood, it is generally accepted that ADHD is mostly genetic, that is, it runs in your, or your partner's, family. While there have been some studies showing possible links to substances, some researchers believe that those who are genetically prone to ADHD are those that would develop ADHD because of these substances. If this is true, these cases would represent a combination of genetic and environmental factors. We'll look at some of the myths surrounding the causes of ADHD

Some of the theories about the causes of ADHD:

Sugar - There has been much debate over whether too much sugar causes ADHD. While it has long been believed that too much sugar can cause a child to be hyperactive, this is normally a short-term situation. Once the "sugar-high" is gone, so is the hyperactivity. Any parent of a child with ADHD knows that hyperactivity doesn't disappear. There have been many studies on the role sugar plays in ADHD and thus far there has been no concrete data showing a relationship between sugar and ADHD. One study gave children sugar one day and a sugar substitute the next day and recorded no difference in behaviors.

Poor Parenting - Poor parenting does not cause ADHD. It is true that parental reactions to behaviors have some influence on future behaviors, such as if you allow your child to talk back to you he may begin to talk back to teachers as well. It is also true that parenting programs can better help parents cope with and manage symptoms of ADHD. Parenting classes provide parents with steps to creating a positive reward system as opposed to a punitive discipline approach. Reward and consequences have been found an effective way to discipline children with ADHD. Better parenting methods can contribute to better behavior in children but it doesn't take away or cure ADHD.

Pesticides - One study, published in Pediatrics, completed in 2010 showed a link between pesticides and ADHD. Children with ADHD were found to have higher levels of organophosphate, a pesticide commonly used on produce. Although the study suggests a possible link, further study would be needed to make any conclusions and this could be, as some researchers have suggested, a combination of genetics and environment, that is only children prone to ADHD would develop symptoms because of the pesticides.

Drinking During Pregnancy - Consuming alcohol during pregnancy is not recommended and can cause harm to your unborn baby. Alcohol consumption while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which shares symptoms with ADHD. It is not clear if drinking during pregnancy causes ADHD alone.

Lead Exposure - Lead poisoning also shares some symptoms with ADHD. Lead exposure, especially when exposed at a young age, can cause problems in developing brains and may cause behavioral issues. It is not thought, however, to be a cause of ADHD.

Food Additives - This is also a long debated issue. In some children, food additives and food coloring seem to cause behavioral changes, but, like sugar, these are not long lasting changes and would not account for ADHD behavior at times food coloring and additives were not consumed. The FDA recently turned down a request to ban food colorings in the U.S. indicating they may be harmful to a few children but did not see evidence of long-term or widespread harm.

For more information on other myths about ADHD:

Myth: ADHD is Over Diagnosed

Myth: ADHD Medication is Not Safe

Myth: ADHD is a Childhood Disorder

Myth: ADHD Cannot be Accurately Diagnosed

Myth: Sugar and Food Additives Cause ADHD

Myth: ADHD is Not a Real Disorder

Myth: ADHD is Just an Excuse for Bad Behavior

Myth: Stimulant Medications Are Over Prescribed

The Myth of the ADHD Cure