Since the launch of Hypothyroid Mom I’ve been contacted by readers about their children suffering from ADD and ADHD. Therefore I was particularly intrigued when I read a post on Dr Kirk Gair’s Facebook page about the connection between hypothyroidism and ADD/ADHD. I invited Dr. Gair here to share this often overlooked connection between ADD/ADHD and hypothyroidism.
Written by Dr. Kirk Gair
It seems like it’s an epidemic these days, and can be so frustrating for parents to deal with. You know that your child is a good kid and is smart, yet they just can’t seem to focus, can’t sit still, and don’t perform like you know they could in school.
Despite all the best parenting, tutoring, and despite visits to doctors, it can seem like there are few options other than strong meds with their side effects. Is there another option? And how do we prevent this from happening in the first place?
This one hits close to home for me. If I were a student today, I’m pretty sure I would be on Ritalin or some other medication. I remember trying my best to focus, to behave, to remember to bring my homework or my permission slip for a field trip, and even praying to God every morning that I could stay focused and out of trouble…usually to no avail.
One day, my elementary principal asked me, “What’s going on with you? I know you’re a good kid, and you score high on standardized tests, but your behavior and grades don’t reflect it. I don’t understand why you can’t just ‘keep your nose clean’? Actually, I didn’t understand it either…
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you went through it yourself, or are going through it with your kids. Why are we seeing this happen so much today?
Learning disorders are estimated to affect as many as 1 in 8 kids today, with boys being more likely than girls. ADD/ADHD seem to be an epidemic, with more kids being put on meds like Ritalin every day.
But many of them may be misdiagnosed and given these meds unnecessarily, and far too many doctors write a knee jerk prescription without a proper exam, medical history workup, or bloodwork.
After struggling with this issue as a kid, and then for a large part of my adult life, I am finally free of this awful condition. Here is what you need to know and do to find the root cause for you or your child, and also how you can PREVENT it if you are planning on having kids.
IT ALL STARTS IN THE WOMB
How many times have you heard from your doctor that there was no reason to worry about antibodies as long as TSH was in the normal range? A research study in the Feb 2012 edition of the journal Thyroid states the following conclusion:
“Our findings imply that the elevated titers of TPOAbs during pregnancy impact children’s risk of problem behavior, in particular, attention deficit/hyperactivity. The observed effect is only partially explained by maternal TSH levels. These findings may point to a specific mechanism of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Nevertheless, we can only speculate about public health implication of the study, as there is no specific treatment for TPOAb-positive pregnant women with normal thyroid function.”
Not only are there studies linking maternal auto immunity to ADHD, but there are also studies linking it to Autism as well. The mother can have antibodies against brain tissue that can actually target the child’s brain in utero (Ann Neurol. 2013 Aug 13. doi: 10.1002/ana.23976, and J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Sep 11). This explains another mechanism for the increased rates we are seeing with autism as well.
This is pretty significant, and underlies the importance of testing your antibodies. If you have positive antibodies, you need to find out what foods and mechanisms are triggering them. The most common foods will be gluten and casein, but I recommend getting tested to verify. Continued ingestion of foods that trigger antibody production can cause those antibodies to target fetal tissue as well.
With the information from these current research studies, do you think that it is still wise to simply ignore your antibody levels? Sadly, this is exactly what too many doctors are still doing.
SUBCLINICAL THYROID (NORMAL RANGES) CAN STILL CAUSE DYSFUNCTION IN THE CHILD
This is quite significant, as we all have heard “your TSH is normal so you are fine.” However, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology in June 2007 showed that “Despite being within the normal range, high TSH concentrations are associated with a lower cognitive function, and high TSH and low free T4 with ADHD symptoms in healthy preschoolers.”
This study suggested that if the TSH was just in the upper 25% of the NORMAL range, that there was a correlation with learning disorders and ADHD. These findings were also supported in another research study in J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1996 Jul;37(5):579-85, which found that higher levels of thyroid hormones correlated with increased distractability.
As with the maternal study, these risks were increased with just subclinical hypothyroid, and even with normal thyroid and just antibodies.
SO WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO?
First off, you need to get proper testing prior to pregnancy and get your thyroid as optimal as possible. This means insisting on getting not just TSH and T4 tested, but also T3 free and total, T3 uptake, and thyroid antibodies.
If antibodies are present, I would get tested for intestinal permeability and gluten reactions. Avoid doing just the alpha gliadin and transglutaminase test, as it can yield a lot of false negatives. I would run the Cyrex Labs array 2 to test for intestinal permeability, which is extremely common with auto immunity. I would also run the Array 3 which tests for 24 reactions to more gluten proteins than the 2 most common. Also, some doctors will only look for Celiac disease. It is important to assess even if you just have gluten sensitivity without actual Celiac’s, as it can still cause a lot of destruction.
I would eliminate all gluten at minimum, and consider eliminating casein, corn, and soy. You may want to consider following an auto immune paleo type of diet as well. Of course, I recommend that you seek the help of a qualified practitioner to help you with this. This physician must be knowledgeable about auto immune conditions, how to test for them, and how to create nutritional protocols for them.
You also need to look at the blood work for any glucose dysfunctions, anemias, hormonal imbalances, inflammation, chronic infections, etc.
If you see ADD/ADHD symptoms in your child, I would run these tests on them as well. I would also go gluten free and even grain free as well. I highly recommend that you also read the book Grain Brain by neurologist Dr David Perlmutter for more details on how gluten and grains affect brain function.
I would also seek the help of a doctor trained in functional medicine and functional neurology. He or she can assess any neurological imbalances as well, and prescribe specific neurological rehabilitation exercises to help with brain integration.