ADHD (cont.): Environmental versus Genetic Factors

I said I’d talk about ADHD in more detail later so here it is. As it’s so complicated I thought I’d share a real life case study so you can see quite clearly what is going on in the boy’s environment.

Tom is a 10 yr old male, diagnosed with ADHD at 5 yrs old. Pre-conceptually, Tom’s father had been a heavy drinker and his mother a smoker. Tom was bottle fed and weaned early, developing colic when he was 9 months old. During the early years of his childhood he was treated for an e.coli infection with antibiotics and thereafter became lactose intolerant. He had the MMR vaccination. Between the ages of 3 yrs and 5 yrs Tom only ate white food and it was during this period that he visited the local hospital for clear outs with Movicol due to an impacted bowel. His bowel only moved on the ingestion of lactose, when he suffered severe diarrhoea. At 6 yrs old Tom’s teeth showed signs of early decay and like his mother, he was prescribed fluoride drops which he has been taking for three years.

Tom’s family live near a busy airport with overhead pylons only metres away. Tom’s father is a painter and decorator and DIY enthusiast. When Tom was 6 yrs old his father used fungicide in the garden which caused Tom to fit. Since then Tom has suffered from weekly headaches. He has a TV and computer in his bedroom and spends long periods of time in front of a screen doing little exercise. Unhappy and teased at school, his tantrums often happen before and after school times. His diet is high in saturated fat, sugar and artificial sweeteners.

When Tom was diagnosed with ADHD, he was displaying a range of symptoms including: anger, disruptive behaviour, little concentration, severe constipation, poor teeth, anxiety, insomnia, swings from hyped up excitement to fatigue and strange food choices. These range of symptoms can feel overwhelming not only for the child but the parents, although the family decided against medication. They were aware of some of the issues but little realised to what extent Tom had been environmentally exposed. To find one cause for these symptoms would be impossible as would proof. This is a multi-exposed child that would need a multi-disciplinary approach.

Ok, so this poor child has been exposed to many environmental factors, so why is the research heavily biased on genetics?

Environmental versus Genetic Factors

The question much disputed by policy makers and scientists is whether environment or heredity issues are more relevant. A fierce debate on the causes of autism/ADHD has pitted genetics against environmental toxins. Although we are aware that there is a genetic component in autism, researchers are now looking at whether the huge increase in autism rate might be linked to a combination of both environmental factor and genetic susceptibility. Children who are genetically susceptible, for example, being exposed to eating gluten or low levels of mercury may then go on to trigger autism. Unfortunately, research resources are currently heavily skewed towards genetic factors – funding for studies conducted on such causes of autism is 10 to 20 times as much as funding for environmental factors. “The advances in molecular genetics have tended to obscure the principle that genes are always acting in and on a particular environment. said Dr Bernard Weiss, a professor of environmental medicine and paediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Centre. He also said that “excessive emphasis has been placed on genetics as a cause”.

And it is time for mindsets, especially those of people controlling research funds, to change. “It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California,” said Dr Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiology professor at University of California, Davis, the leader of the study. “There`s genetics and there`s environment. And genetics don`t change in such short periods of time,” she also said.

There needs to be a nationwide shift in autism research, moving from studies on genetic factors towards potential environmental ones, such as infant and foetal exposure to pesticides, chemicals found in common household agents, and viruses. Along those lines, the dangers and effects of childhood vaccinations should be carefully investigated, too – this is likely to be a significant factor. What is quite clear is that there are many possible causative factors, and extensive research will have to be carried out to reveal more – there is no one “smoking gun.”

As I said its complicated, but going back to America’s Medicated Kids it’s crystal clear to me that there are two camps. One, the child is just naughty, playing up, has issues at home, is being bullied or has been overloaded and overburdened with the above environmental and genetic factors.

By the way the child above whose name has been changed is now completely 100% better. Yes it was difficult and hard going but the parents chose to find out why their son was ill, and not choose the easy option of a pill. They worked hard and it paid off.

If you would like to do your own research on the topic of ADHD and environment, take one of the issues above: ie diet, stress, nutrient deficiencies, artificial sweeteners, gut problems, mercury, lead, organophosphates, pesticides, Electro magnetic frequency (EMF) and just google that word with ADHD and see what you get – you will be surprised!

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