Low Levels of Chemicals in Mothers may cause ADHD

Low Levels of Chemicals in Mothers may cause ADHD

By Jim Windell

            Does the thyroid health of pregnant women play a role in the brain development of their fetus?

           The answer to this might be yes.

            A new study led by Morgan Peltier, Ph.D., an associate professor in the departments of Clinical Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Medicine at NYU Winthrop Hospital, Langone Health, showed that children whose mothers were diagnosed with hypothyroidism shortly before or during the early stages of pregnancy were 24 percent more likely to have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than children whose mothers did not have the diagnosis.

            Hormones produced in the thyroid gland in the neck and are known to influence fetal growth. Investigators have suspected that disruptions in these hormones, commonly referred to as hypothyroidism, may contribute to (ADHD), which is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder of children in the U.S.

            In this new study, published in the American Journal of Perinatology, show that boys born to hypothyroid women were four times more vulnerable to ADHD than girls whose mothers had hypothyroidism. Hispanic children born to hypothyroid mothers had the highest risk of any ethnic group studied.

           "Our findings make clear that thyroid health likely has a much larger role in fetal brain development and behavioral disorders like ADHD than we previously understood," says study Dr. Peltier.

            Other findings in this research indicate that once a pregnancy had reached the second trimester, a woman's hypothyroidism had little effect on her children. A possible explanation, says Peltier, is that by this point, the fetus has begun to produce its own thyroid hormones and so is less vulnerable to its mother's deficiencies.

            The research project followed 329,157 children from birth until age 17. All of the children were born in Kaiser Permanente Southern California hospitals. It is the first large-scale effort in the U.S. to examine a potential link between a mother's hypothyroidism and ADHD in her children, according to the study's authors. Peltier and his colleagues also note that unlike previous research in Europe, the new American study included people of diverse ethnic backgrounds and observed the children for nearly two decades. This long study period, Peltier says, allowed the researchers to better capture cases of ADHD in the children as they aged and progressed through school. All children were evaluated for ADHD using the same criteria, which the authors say helped to prevent inconsistencies in how cases of the disorder were identified.

            According to the findings, 16,696 children were diagnosed with ADHD. Hispanic children whose mothers had low thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy had a 45 percent increased risk for the neurodevelopmental disorder compared with a 22 percent increased risk in white children whose mothers had the same condition.

           Peltier says his team's results are strong enough to warrant careful monitoring of pregnant women with low thyroid hormone levels. He adds that children whose mothers had low thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy could potentially benefit from earlier surveillance for signs of ADHD, such as inattention, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing on a task. Previous research has found that swift intervention can help manage ADHD and make it easier for children to succeed in the classroom and in learning social skills.

 To see the journal article, go to:

   Morgan R. Peltier, Michael J. Fassett, Vicki Y. Chiu, & Darios Getahun (2020). Maternal Hypothyroidism Increases the Risk of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in the OffspringAmerican Journal of Perinatology, 2020 DOI: 10.1055/s-0040-1717073

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