The Complex Neurological Picture behind ADD/ADHD

Brain ScanThere is a significant perception in our society that ADD/ADHD is merely an excuse for ‘acting out’ and that all that is needed to address the condition is for sufferers to get their act together and straighten out or, failing that, to get a bit of ‘chemical’ help to sort them out. This perception is strengthened by the growing tendency among celebrities to excuse their bad behavior by labeling it as ADHD!

This ‘popularization’ of ADD/ADHD in North American culture helps no one. Not the people trying to rationalize their own behavior and certainly not those who are actually affected by the condition. Trivializing the condition can have some very significant negative outcomes including the following:

  • Over and Misdiagnosis: We are fast approaching a point where the existence of any behavioral or attention problems will be automatically ascribed to ADD/ADHD unless proven otherwise! This is obviously a very unhealthy situation as it leads to people being unnecessarily medicated and also to potentially serious conditions being missed due to hasty and sloppy misdiagnoses.
  • Increased rates of medication: Increasing rates of diagnosis will inevitably lead to more and more people being medicated in an attempt to combat the condition. This is not a hypothetical danger. The increased rate of prescription for ADD/ADHD drugs over the past few decades is nothing short of staggering. This would perhaps not be so much of a problem if the drugs were essentially benign and effective. I am convinced however that they are neither. They do not treat the root causes of the condition and they have some very dangerous side effects.
  • Lack of help for true ADD/ADHD cases: The massive rates of ADD/ADHD overdiagnosis in our society are having profound negative effects on those who are actually suffering from the condition. This is because the media paints ADD/ADHD as a very simple problem with a very simple solution (i.e. medication!). This simplistic approach means that the condition is often not addressed properly as people buy the line that band-aid solutions would be sufficient to counter it.

One of the best ways out of the quagmire of ADD/ADHD misdiagnosis would be the application of much more stringent criteria before a conclusion is reached. After such a conclusion is reached care should also be taken to address the condition with a multi facetted and individualised approach. Thankfully it seems as if the day of accurate diagnoses (hopefully with a corresponding decrease in misdiagnoses) is drawing nearer.

During a recent study, conducted at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (a report on the study appears in the current issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association) detailed analyses were performed on the brains of 53 adult ADHD/ADD subjects (who have never received any treatment for the condition) and 43 non-ADD/ADHD subjects. The participants in the study were very carefully screened in order to control for factors unrelated to ADD/ADHD.

Researchers made use of a very advanced scanning method called Positron Emission Topography (PET). They specifically looked at the ways in which the subjects’ brains reacted to dopamine: One of the key regulators of mood and attention. They also measured the level of proteins regulating the transportation and reception of dopamine.

The findings of the study comprehensively disprove the assertion that ADD/ADHD is simply another word for ‘acting out’! Researchers found a consistent correlation between ADD/ADHD symptoms and lower levels of dopamine. ADD/ADHD subjects also had significantly less dopamine transporters and receptors in their brains. The areas where the levels of these proteins were the lowest were the nucleus accumbens and the midbrain. Both of these areas are part of the limbic system, the brain region primarily responsible for emotions, sensations, motivation and reward. Researcher Dr Nora Volkow said: “These deficits in the brain’s reward system may help explain clinical symptoms of ADHD, including inattention and reduced motivation, as well as the propensity for complications such as drug abuse and obesity among ADHD patients.

The research results are very significant as it confirms something that we have highlighted again and again here at ‘3 Steps ADD’ namely the critical importance of creating the conditions for optimum brain function when battling the effects of ADD/ADHD.

It is one thing to be aware of the fact that certain protein deficiencies can play a significant role in exacerbating the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. It is quite another to do something proactive about it by making sure that your diet contains all the building blocks necessary to battle the condition. Most people go from this realisation to a radical chemical ‘solution’.

Following the 3 Steps will safeguard you from the harmful effects that this ‘solution’ brings with it. You will instead be following a totally natural system that 1) Takes the existence of ADD/ADHD seriously and 2) Brings you into the position where your brain will have a fighting chance to overcome the conditions that keeps it from firing on all cylinders!