Low Iron Levels in the Brain May Help Detect ADHD

Health Writer

In the past, ADHD has been linked with iron deficiency in some studies. These studies relied on the iron levels in the blood and should that children with ADHD were more likely to have low iron levels. A new study also links iron levels with ADHD, however, a recent study looked at iron levels in the brain.

The authors of the study, performed at the Medical University of South Carolina, wanted to determine if brain iron levels could help identify people with ADHD to avoid misdiagnosis and overmedication. The researchers looked at the brain iron levels of 49 children and adolescents, 22 with ADHD and 27 who did not have ADHD. Of those with ADHD, about one-half had never taken medication.

The researchers looked at brain iron levels with magnetic field correlation imaging, a specific magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique. The results showed low iron levels in those individuals with ADHD who had never taken medication. For those taking psychostimulant medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, the brain iron levels were comparable to the participants who did not have ADHD. The researchers suggest that taking these medications improves iron levels in the brain.

Interestingly, the level of iron in the brain did not correlate with iron levels in the blood. The research team found no significant differences in blood iron levels between the three groups. This means that even when blood tests indicate normal iron levels, the levels in the brain could still be low, possibly because in those with ADHD, the brain does not properly absorb iron.

The researchers believe that, if the results of this small study are replicated in a larger study, this information can help to identify patients that would benefit from psychostimulant medications rather than using them more broadly for all patients who are thought to have ADHD. Currently, ADHD is diagnosed based on questionnaires and observation. There is no laboratory test that provides a definitive diagnosis. Because of this, there has been much debate as to whether ADHD is overdiagnosed and stimulant medications overprescribed.

Despite the lack of laboratory tests, many experts state that ADHD can be definitively diagnosed if doctors use the existing screening tools. While there may be cases when stimulant medications are prescribed to those without ADHD, some experts believe it is underprescribed, leaving many people who would benefit from this treatment, without help.

A previous study also used MRI technology to help identify ADHD. In a study in China, found that brain activity during resting states of children with ADHD was different than the brain activity during resting state in children without ADHD. This was also a small study and according to the researchers, additional testing is needed to determine if this is an accurate way to detect ADHD in children.

If you believe you or your child has ADHD, talk with your doctor.