Many professionals assume that all cases of ADD are caused by some sort of irreversible brain defect, whether or not one can be identified. That is because ADD traits are common in people with known brain damage.
Causes of brain damage may include:
- fetal exposure to drugs or alcohol
- premature birth
- trauma from an accident
- disease (e.g. encephalitis)
- lack of oxygen to the brain (e.g. during an accident)
- genetic defects (such as Downs Syndrome)
- exposure to toxic chemicals, such as lead and mercury
Brain defects often occur as a cluster, so that a person is not only ADD, but has other problems as well, such as low IQ or eye problems.
Exposure to toxic chemicals may or may not be a significant source of ADD, we just don’t know. Lead poisoning is still surprisingly common, mostly among children who live in older houses and have either been eating paint chips or breathing in paint dust. Mercury poisoning is another possibility. Until recently, immunizations for infants actually contained mercury-based preservatives. Mercury bioaccumulates in tissue and is passed on through mother’s milk. One very common source of exposure is oily fish, including tuna fish. I know of a child who began having difficulties concentrating in school. He was found to have mercury poison as a result of eating three or four tuna fish sandwiches per week.
Malnutrition in developed countries may be more common than you think. Although most kids get a lot to eat, they are often missing important nutrients such as fatty acids or calcium. This is partly from eating too much junk food, and partly because food doesn’t contain as much nutrition as it used to (unless fortified). In addition, some people have weak systems for utilizing certain nutrients. See my section on nutrition for more info.
Brain damage may, to a large extent, be irreversible, even when caused by malnutrition. Still, you want to make sure the brain is getting the “food” it needs and is “exercised” because we now know the brain can regenerate to some extent.
Medications such as Ritalin are most appropriate for people with irreversible brain damage. The comparison with using glasses to counter nearsightedness actually makes sense in this situation.
Some people may worry excessively about whether their child has a brain defect. If the child’s characteristics are something that ‘runs in the family’, then chances are it’s nothing serious.