Non-genetic Risk Factors for ADHD

Wonder why you can't focus and are constantly having to pull yourself back down to earth?  You're right - it could have been the 70's.  Or maybe you're a victim of ADHD.  I say victim, because an ever-growing body of research is showing that ADHD can result from environmental and/or lifestyle issues that could have been beyond your control. 

Most researchers consider the largest risk factor for ADHD to be genetic. [1]  However, there are many things beyond genes that you can control and I list those below for those of you with kids or who might want to have kids some day:

NOTE:  Keep in mind that if you have a daughter with ADHD, the condition will likely present itself in the more "inattentive form", i.e. with more subtle symptoms of "dreaminess, forgetfulness or messiness."  [11]

1.  PFC's.  PFC's are used in many consumer products, their most well-known usage being used for teflon pans.  Turns out this class of chemicals have a neurological effect which can lead to ADHD. [2] [3]

2.  Lead.  Lead is incredibly toxic to neurons and even minute levels can lower a child's IQ. [4]  Lead has also been linked to ADHD as well. [1] Watch those painted toys from China!

3.  Sodium Benzoate and Food Colorings.  The journal Lancet found that children (ages 3 and 8-9) consuming food colors and additives were significantly more at risk for ADHD.  [5]  Sodium benzoate is extremely common and is added to sodas and other beverages that kids commonly consume.=

4.  Second Hand Cigarette Smoke.  I doubt any Peak Testosterone readers smoke, but I will mention that many studies show even second hand cigarette smoke can lead to ADHD. [6]

5.  Magnesium.  One of the signs of a good diet is adequate magnesium since magnesium is in so many whole foods.  Unfortunately, a significant percentage of children are magnesium-deficient due to modern dietary patterns.  One study showed that magnesium supplementation given to magnesium-deficient children resulted in a substantial reduction in ADHD symptoms. [7]

6.  Exercise. Several studies have shown that exercise has a calming effect on ADHD children. [8]

7.  Pesticides. A 2010 study showed that in-the-womb exposure to pesticides is associated with ADHD. [9]  Scientists were able to examine the metabolites (byproducts) of a solid majority of the most common organophosphate pesticides in use. Even more disturbing was the fact that the researchers found an association with the "Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) scale, which includes such items as 'avoids eye contact,' 'rocks head, body,' and 'unresponsive to affection,' which are rated as very consistent with Asperger s Disorder and Autistic Disorder .

8. Phthalates.  Phthalate levels, the chemical in plastics and many other consumer products, have been linked to ADHD. [10]  For more information, see my link on Phthalates, Testosterone and Children.

9. Fish Oil. Fish oil was found to steadily improve ADHD in children for the length of the study - almost three months. Furthermore, results were actually significantly better than Ritilin, the drug used for ADHD (with many nasty side effects). Omega-3's in fish oil are composed of EPA and DHA and "EPA is proposed to function by increasing blood flow in the body [and] to affect hormones and the immune system, ...which have a direct effect on brain function. DHA on the other hand, is involved in the membrane of ion channels in the brain, making it easier for them to change shape and transit electrical signals." [12]

10. Blue Light.  Some research shows that a significant amount of ADHD may be related to melatonin, sleep and blue light. For example, one study showed that wearing special glasses that blocked blue light a couple of hours before going to sleep significantly reduced ADHD symtpoms. [13] It is blue light that suppresses seratonin and to trigger a melatonin release at night does not require actually blocking all light, but rather just the blue wavelengths. Blue light-blocking glasses are usually amber in color - I don't know why - and Cocoons are one of the most well-known brands.

Once again, diet, exercise and avoiding toxic chemicals and smoking are shown to be keys to good health for you and your children.


1) Acta P diatrica, Aug 2007, 96(9):1269-1274, "Environmental risk factors for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder"


3) Environmental Health Perspectives, "Exposure to Polyfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in U.S. Children Aged 12-15 Years"

4) NeuroToxicology, Jan 2009, 30(1):31-26, "Low blood levels of lead and mercury and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity in children: A report of the children's health and environment research (CHEER)"

5) TThe Lancet, 3 Nov 2007, 370(9598):1560 - 1567, "Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial"

6) Biological Psychiatry, Jun 2007, 61(12):1320-1328, "Prenatal Smoking Exposure and Dopaminergic Genotypes Interact to Cause a Severe ADHD Subtype"

7) Magnes Res, 1997 Jun, 10(2):149-56, "The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test."

8) Behavior Modification, Sep 2006, 30(5):564-570, "Physical Exercise as a Reinforcer to Promote Calmness of an ADHD Child"

9) Environ Health Perspect, 2007 May, "Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Neurodevelopment in Young Mexican-American Children"

10) Biological Psychiatry, 15 Nov 15 2009, 66(10):958-963, "Phthalates Exposure and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in School-Age Children"

11) WebMd, the Magazine, Sep 2010, p. 37.


13) 071112143308.htm