adhd and depression

ADHD and Depression: What is the Connection?

The medical field associates childhood ADHD with depression later on in life. Research shows people with depression, especially bipolar depression, are likely to have ADHD as well. However, scientists are still trying to understand the exact mechanism that causes it.

What is the connection between ADHD and depression? What are the solutions for both of them? We’ll explore both of these questions below.

adhd and depression - paper cutout of head with gears

Genetics Links Between ADHD and Depression

ADHD tends to run in families, so genetics influence the condition. There is a genetic overlap between ADHD and depression. Certain gene variations play a role in the development of ADHD also increase the risk of depression. There is also a connection of ADHD in families because people share the same environment.

Some of the most researched genetic variations are related to certain dopamine receptor genes. Genes that encode MAO and COMT also have a significant impact on the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine. Impaired levels of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine, influence both ADHD and depression.

A Swedish study evaluated over 13,000 twins with ADHD and an association with hypomania, a part of bipolar disorder. They found that 13-29% of the genetic risk factors for hypomania had a link with ADHD. Higher numbers correlated with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD compared with inattentive ADHD. Overall, researchers believe a large number of genes and environmental factors influence ADHD.

adhd and depression - pregnant woman touching her belly

Environmental Risk Factors for ADHD and Depression

Researchers have associated certain environmental factors and other factors with ADHD and depression. Research is still ongoing to better understand this association. There is some evidence that links prenatal substance exposure, heavy metals, chemicals exposure, nutritional factors, and lifestyle and psychosocial factors and increased risk of ADHD.

Maternal factors and prenatal exposure could play a major role in ADHD development. Exposing a fetus to the following substances could influence the condition.

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Heroin
  • Excess caffeine
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Antidepressant bupropion

Exposure to heavy metals can also increase the risk of development. These metals include:

  • Lead
  • Manganese
  • Organochlorines
  • Organophosphate
  • Phthalate
  • Polyfluoroalkyl

Nutrient deficiencies are also emerging as an important risk factor of ADHD. Iron, zinc, omega 3, copper, magnesium, and Vitamins D, C, and B6 in particular. Maternal obesity and folate deficiency may also increase the risk for childhood ADHD.

Food additives, particularly synthetic colors and sodium benzoate, may also play a role. There is also a link between Western diets, which are high in empty calories and artificial additives, and ADHD.

It’s worth mentioning that excess exposure to media and video games also contributes. Children experiencing maternal stress, living in institutional settings, and early-life psychological trauma also plays a role.

Environmental Risk Factors for Depression

What about environmental risk factors for depression? You’ll notice many potential risk factors for ADHD also seem to increase the risk of depression. Western diets have a strong link with a higher prevalence of depression. Traditional diets like the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk for depression.

Multiple nutrient deficiencies also influence the risk of depression. Essential vitamins that could cause depression include:

  • Vitamin D
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Omega 3

Urinary heavy metals, phthalates, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons were also associated with depression.

Early psychological trauma and maternal exposure to toxins could also cause depression development.

How do these environmental factors increase the risk of ADHD and depression? They promote brain inflammation. This leads to changes in brain chemistry, neurotransmitter levels, and brain function.

adhd and depression - mediterranean diet breakfast

Solutions for ADHD and Depression

Prescription drugs are an essential tool to manage ADHD. However, they are not often able to fully control the symptoms or help build skills needed for day-to-day life. Some organizational skills may improve with drugs. But a person with ADHD will feel overwhelmed by simple tasks. Examples include cleaning a room, completing a project, or planning ahead.

Adding psychotherapy can further help improve impulsivity and procrastination. It can also boost levels of functioning in both children and adults with ADHD.

Depression is also treated better with a combination of drugs and psychotherapy.
We need more research to evaluate specific environmental factors that play a role in the development of ADHD and depression. One thing is certain, though, optimizing diet and lifestyle help manage both conditions.

Limit consumption of fast foods and choose nutrient-rich foods. You can follow the Mediterranean diet for healthy foods. Also, limit exposure to video games and television. Manage stress with meditation, yoga, and regular exercise. All of these combined can help you manage and improve your ADHD and depression.

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