Attention Disorder Linked to Smaller Brain Size and 5 Other Abnormal Brain Regions

Dr. Mercola Newsletter

Dear Reader,

You may have heard that ADHD is "just" an attention disorder, but the reality is far more complex and intriguing. ADHD is a developmental disorder that stems from abnormalities in the brain's executive functions and self-control mechanisms. These brain regions are still developing in young children, which is why ADHD tends to be more common and severe in adolescents than in adults.

Researchers have long known that ADHD is associated with abnormal brain structure and function, but an ongoing debate has centered on precisely how the condition affects the brain. Now, researchers from the NIH have found that people with ADHD have smaller total brain volumes and abnormally sized amygdala, hippocampus, nucleus accumbens, putamen, and nucleus caudatus.

This study, published in the prestigious journal JAMA, used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of nearly 3,000 adults, ages 18 to 60, including 429 adults with ADHD.

These latest findings add to the growing realization that ADHD is part of a complex neuro-developmental spectrum of disorders that include autism, dyslexia, and anxiety disorder, among others. Like these other conditions, ADHD stems from abnormalities in brain structure and function that affect attention and behavior.

Developmental specialist Dr. Robert Brooks, who wrote "The Brain Gain Program" with Dr. Gary DePan, explains that the ADHD brain:

"behaves differently because the neural pathways that control attention and response inhibition (the ability to suppress inappropriate thoughts and actions) are not structurally intact. They lack proper connectivity, chemically and genetically, and thus do not generate the brain activity necessary for focused attention and self-control. It is also why many with ADHD seek stimulation -- they lack the ability to effectively focus and stimulate themselves."

Earlier research also shows that the brains of people with ADHD are "maturing" more slowly than those of their peers without ADHD. For example, one study found that the brain's "attention system" among ADHD children was still maturing at an average age of 16, compared to 10 among those without ADHD.

Abnormalities in brain development and function explain why people with ADHD tend to struggle with impulsivity, problem solving, mood regulation, and attention. This also points to the need for behavioral therapies and lifestyle changes that can strengthen these defective brain regions.

Recent research reviews have found that the most effective therapies for ADHD are behavioral interventions that reinforce desired behaviors and modify unwanted ones. Parents, teachers, and spouses can benefit from learning how to adapt to the unique challenges of people with ADHD, and these individuals can learn skills that compensate for their deficiencies and strengthen their natural abilities.

What's clear is that ADHD is a complex developmental disorder that requires a functional approach to treatment and management. Working with your healthcare practitioner, you can take steps to support your brain health and improve attention and emotional regulation, such as:

Monitoring and managing nutrient deficiencies, especially vitamin D, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, and iron Addressing food intolerances and allergies Reducing exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead, mercury, and pesticides Incorporating mindfulness practices, biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy Increasing physical activity and optimizing sleep Leveraging neurostimulation therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback

Remember, ADHD doesn't have to define you or your loved ones, and there is much that can be done to improve the symptoms and outcomes. Be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner to determine the best personalized approach for you or your child.

Best regards, Dr. Mercola Founder,

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