Parents who practice healthy lifestyle behaviors during pregnancy and beyond may be able to reduce their children’s risk for ADHD.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 6.1 million children between two and 17 years old in the U.S. Many parents wonder whether they can prevent their children from developing ADHD so they can have happier, more productive childhoods.
October is National ADHD Awareness Month. This month, the ADHD Awareness Month Coalition is helping parents understand more about ADHD based on science and research.
Continue reading to learn more about ADHD, and about whether it can be prevented
What Is ADHD?
ADHD is a mental and behavioral health disorder that makes it difficult for a person to stay focused and pay attention. People with ADHD have impulsive behaviors that are difficult to control. They are also restless and overly active.
ADHD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Many children overcome ADHD before they become adults, though some may continue to have ADHD well into adulthood.
ADHD can often be diagnosed by meeting with a psychologist, psychiatrist, or pediatrician who specializes in ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD early on can help you make sure your child receives the treatment and attention they need to do better in school.
What Causes ADHD?
Knowing what causes ADHD can help you take the right steps as a parent to reduce your child’s risk. Researchers are not fully sure what causes ADHD. However, certain risk factors may increase the risk of ADHD.
According to a study published in Neurotherapeutics, ADHD is caused by structural and developmental problems in the brain. For example, a mother who smokes cigarettes or drinks alcohol throughout pregnancy may harm her baby’s developing brain to cause ADHD. ADHD may also be caused by genetics, such as having a blood relative who has ADHD.
Another study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California found that teens who frequently use digital media are twice as likely to develop ADHD than other teens. Digital media includes social media, video games, text messaging, and other online activities.
Other potential causes and risk factors of ADHD include premature birth and exposure to environmental toxins like lead.
Can ADHD Be Prevented?
Some doctors and researchers say that ADHD cannot be prevented. However, it is possible to reduce your child’s risk for this disorder by taking steps to promote good brain health.
During pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife about ways to encourage healthy brain development in your baby. This usually involves taking prenatal vitamins and eating nutritious foods.
Some risk factors and causes of ADHD cannot be avoided or prevented. For example, if your child has a blood relative with ADHD, you may not be able to prevent your child from developing ADHD.
Steps Parents Can Take To Reduce ADHD Risk
Living a healthy lifestyle and setting a good example for your children is the best way you can reduce their risk for ADHD. Here are steps you can take as a parent to ensure your children stay as healthy as possible.
Take Prenatal Supplements
Folic acid is an essential vitamin to take during pregnancy, as it can prevent birth defects of the brain. Take 600 mcg of folic acid every day during pregnancy, or a prenatal vitamin that contains this amount of folic acid. Your healthcare provider can also recommend the best foods to eat that promote good brain health.
Foods high in folic acid, or folate, include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, and arugula
Avoid Tobacco, Drugs, and Alcohol During Pregnancy
Do not use cigarettes, alcohol, or illicit drugs while you are pregnant. All these substances can interfere with your baby’s brain development. If you are a smoker, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation treatments that are safe for you to use during pregnancy.
If you are using any medications, ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you to continue using those medications during pregnancy. In some instances, your doctor may change your medications or ask you to discontinue them until after pregnancy.
Stay Away From Environmental Toxins
Lead and mercury are toxins that can cause brain damage in children to increase their risk for ADHD. Lead may be found in the paint of older homes, or in drinking water that comes from old pipes. Mercury is released into the air by power plants and oil refineries. Mercury is also found in dental products and many household products.
Reduce your exposure to these environmental toxins, and protect your children from them as well. For example, if your children need cavity fillings, ask your dentist about fillings made from materials that do not contain mercury.
Avoid Head Injuries
Head injuries cannot always be prevented, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.
Make your children wear protective gear like helmets when riding their bikes or playing sports. Keep a close eye on your children to prevent them from falling from tall heights, like stairs or balconies. When driving, make sure your kids are wearing their seat belts or properly buckled into their car seats.
Maintain a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Research from Harvard Medical School shows that nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life is crucial to a child’s brain development. Foods play an important role in your children’s ability to learn, retain information, and remember things. Foods also play a role in attention span and impulsive behavior.
Make sure your children eat a healthy, balanced diet. Limit their intake of sugar and additives, which can harm their brain’s health and development.
The best foods and nutrients for brain health include:
- Choline, which is in eggs, vegetables, and dairy products.
- Folate, which is in dark leafy greens and liver.
- Healthy fats, such as that in fatty fish, olive oil, and many nuts.
- Iodine, which is in seafood, seaweed, and dairy products.
- Iron, such as that in beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, and potatoes.
- Protein, such as that in fish, eggs, nuts, beans, and poultry.
- Vitamin A, which is in carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach.
- Vitamin B6, which is in liver, fish, and starchy vegetables.
- Vitamin B12, which is in eggs, fish, and meats.
- Vitamin D, which comes from sunshine exposure, salmon, and fortified cereals, and milk.
- Zinc, which is in oysters, dairy products, and nuts.
Encourage Plenty Of Exercise
Several studies show that exercise can stimulate brain growth and improve focus in children. Exercise also increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain to promote healthy brain development. Children who exercise regularly are found to be at reduced risk for learning disabilities and ADHD.
Make sure your children exercise every day. Outdoor exercise is ideal, as it exposes your children to sunshine to increase their body’s production of vitamin D. It also helps to do physical activities with your children to set a good example and stress the importance of exercise.
Reduce your children’s exposure to stress as best as possible. Long-term stress can cause hormonal imbalances in people of all ages. This increases the risk of mental and behavioral health disorders.
Talk to your children about problems they may be having at school, and teach them how to manage or reduce stress. Exercising, writing, drawing, and making music are fun, effective ways to help your children reduce stress.
What Are the Best Treatments For ADHD?
Medications and behavioral therapy are the most common treatments for ADHD.
Stimulant medications may be used to increase attention, focus, and memory in your child. They may also help reduce impulsive behavior. However, it’s important to keep in mind that stimulant medications cause side effects that may lead to other health complications.
Stimulants can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate, which raises the risk for many heart problems. These medications may also increase the risk of psychiatric and mood disorders due to the way they change brain chemistry. Physical dependence and addiction are other potential side effects of stimulant medications that should be taken into serious consideration.
Behavioral therapy for ADHD is an effective treatment that causes no side effects. Therapy can teach your child how to manage and live with their ADHD symptoms to become more productive.
During therapy, your child will have the chance to talk about their feelings and challenges related to ADHD. They will also learn how to change harmful behaviors related to ADHD, and improve their social skills. Family therapy may also be used to help parents, siblings, and other family members learn how to cope with living with someone who has ADHD.
Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor about other ADHD treatments, including newer treatments that can help your children. Many schools also have special programs for students with ADHD. Together, you and your child’s doctor can work to find the best treatment and solution for your child with ADHD.
Treating ADHD At Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Care is home to a large team of medical and healthcare specialists who can diagnose and treat ADHD in children and adults. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment and to learn more about our many available healthcare services for you and your family.