Because attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms like inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity affect a child’s ability to learn and get along with others, some people think an ADHD child’s behavior is caused by a lack of discipline, a chaotic family life or even too much TV. In fact, research suggests that ADHD is largely a genetic disorder. However, some environmental factors may play a role as well. Here, we separate fact from fiction about the causes of ADHD.
Research does suggest a possible link between ADHD and pesticides. A 2010 study in the journal Pediatrics found that children with higher urine levels of organophosphate, a pesticide used on produce, had higher ADHD rates. Another 2010 study showed that women with higher urine levels of organophosphate were more likely to have a child with ADHD. The studies suggest a possible link but can’t prove that pesticides cause ADHD. Psychologist Marcy Rosenzweig Leavitt, who works with ADHD patients in private practice in the Los Angeles area, recommends buying organic varieties of fruits and vegetables, especially those prone to high levels of pesticides (or scrubbing nonorganic produce before eating).
Smoking or Drinking During Pregnancy
Fetal exposure to alcohol and tobacco is thought to play a role in ADHD. Children exposed to tobacco smoke prenatally are 2.4 times as likely to have ADHD as those who are not, research suggests. “Fetuses exposed to alcohol can develop fetal alcohol effects or fetal alcohol syndrome, and the prominent features for both are the symptoms you see in ADHD,” says Dr. Mark L. Wolraich, chief of the section of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
Many European countries have banned certain preservatives after research linked hyperactivity in young children to food with mixtures of some artificial food colors and the preservative, sodium benzoate. The FDA says food additives are safe when used “properly,” and most additives aren’t required to be clearly labeled on packaging. Experts think only a small number of children will benefit from avoiding brightly colored processed foods, which tend to have more additives. “Consult with your child’s doctor before putting your child on a particular diet,” says Leavitt. Reducing consumption of these additives may or may not help hyperactive behavior; many factors play a role in ADHD.