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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Brain, Nutrition and ADHD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 18th 2009

food pyramidRecent studies have revealed important information about what difficulties in the brain may underlie ADHD.

1. The first study was reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, September 9, 2009 edition.

Using PET scans of patients with ADHD, researchers found problems in the reward system of the brain. The neurotransmitter, Dopamine, plays an important role in our ability to experience feelings of pleasure. Evidently,an there is an inadequate supply of dopamine, or a malfunction in the ability of brain cells to soak up dopamine, can produce ADHD, particularly the inability to focus attention.

What is even more interesting about this finding is that it may explain why some people become addicted to such things as food or to certain drugs. What happens is that, with an inadequate supply of dopamine, people who are obese or addicted to drugs and alcohol, may be unwittingly attempting to increase the amount of dopamine in their system by experience rewarding feelings caused by over eating or drug addiction. This may also explain why such a high percentage of people with ADHD become caught in the web of addiction.

According to researchers, the inadequate supply of dopamine may explain why stimulant medications are so effective in the treatment of this disorder. The stimulants increase the ability of these types of patients to focus attention.

2. The second study found a possible cause of some cases of ADHD in the diet of mothers who are deficient in the amount of Folate in their blood system during pregnancy. Evidently, there is a correlation between pregnant women with low Folate levels and their likelihood of having ADHD children. It is a well established fact that good nutrition during pregnancy is vitally important for the healthy development of both the nervous system and the brain in the developing fetus. Researchers also state that proper nutrition is far more effective than taking supplements in insuring a healthy infant.

However, this last finding does not account for all the cases of ADHD. Researchers state that it points to a possible cause of ADHD among the very poor who may not be getting the necessary type of nutrition to ensure a fully healthy infant.

Both of these studies are very promising in terms of future treatment and even prevention of ADHD and other types of disorders that fall in the category of addictions.

Cautionary note:

As I have pointed out in previous articles on this topic, it is important to understand that having ADHD is no reason to feel hopeless or despairing about living a successful life.

The facts are that medications can help patients focus their attention and learning strategies to compensate for symptoms help to achieve success. The ability of people to learn and of the brain to be flexible in overcome any disability means that there is no reason for anyone with this disorder to feel hopeless.

Your comments and questions are always welcome

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD






Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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