Low-lying states have rates up to 16 percent versus 6 percent in mountain regions
WebMD News from HealthDay
By Dennis Thompson
FRIDAY, April 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The thin air of America's higher-elevation regions may reduce the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests.
Researchers reported that the occurrence of ADHD decreases substantially as altitude increases. For example, Utah has an average state elevation of 6,100 feet. That state's ADHD rate is half that of states at sea level, they said.
It's important to note though that the current study's design can only show a link between altitude and a lower incidence of ADHD. It can't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Still, the researchers suspect that brain chemistry may be affected by the lower oxygen levels at higher elevations.
In particular, levels of dopamine -- one of the brain's chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) -- increase as someone adapts to oxygen-depleted air, said Dr. Douglas Kondo, a child psychiatrist and brain imaging researcher at the University of Utah's Brain Institute and University Neuropsychiatric Institute.
One of dopamine's jobs is to help regulate emotional responses. Previous research has associated lower levels of the hormone with ADHD, Kondo said. Most drugs used to treat ADHD work through the dopamine system.
Kondo and his colleagues have theorized that as dopamine levels increase with elevation, the risk for developing ADHD diminishes.
"The idea is that if your symptoms are on the borderline of clinical ADHD -- it's affecting your family life and your academic life -- the effects of high altitude are beneficial," Kondo said.
So, should parents in low-lying states pack up their ADHD kids and set out for a Rocky Mountain high? Not necessarily, Kondo added.
"That kind of very life-changing clinical recommendation, we're not there yet," he said. "We're just asking the question at this point."
Kondo doesn't even recommend visiting places like Utah or Nevada solely to see whether the high altitude can positively affect an ADHD kid. Just the novelty of being in the mountains or being on vacation, along with the additional physical activity involved, likely would improve a child's symptoms, he said.
The research was published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders.
source : Higher Altitude States Have Fewer Kids With ADHD, Study Reveals