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Free Webinar Replay: Beyond Genes: How Environment and Lifestyle Impact ADHD

In this hour-long webinar-on-demand, learn how lifestyle and environmental factors impact ADHD with Joel Nigg, Ph.D.

The science behind ADHD is rapidly changing and the picture is becoming more complex and more hopeful. We now know that genes are not destiny. Genes create a tendency or a potential, but the environment — including nutrition, stress, exposure to pollutants, and more — ultimately shapes or activates that tendency. Environmental changes may re-set genes and even change which genes are turned on and turned off. That, in turn, changes how the brain develops and organizes itself. In effect, the environment can override genes to affect brain signaling.

In this webinar, you will learn :

  1. New scientific findings about the importance of environment in brain development and ADHD
  2. How ADHD relates more to self-regulation than it does to hyperactivity or inattention
  3. The latest research regarding the interplay of genes and environmental factors
  4. How the ADHD brain connects and wires itself
  5. How chemical pollutants may affect a child’s predisposition toward ADHD
  6. How sleep and exercise grow the brain’s network connections
  7. How  lifestyle changes can improve your child’s journey with ADHD

Meet the Expert Speaker:

Joel Nigg, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, scientist, and a professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University. He directs the OSHU ADHD Research program and is also director of the division of psychology. He is the author of a new book for parents on ADHD, environment, and lifestyle entitled, Getting Ahead of ADHD: What Next-Generation Science Says About Treatments That Work — and How You Can Make Them Work for Your Child. Dr. Nigg has published some 200 scientific papers related to the neuropsychological , cognitive, and temperamental correlates of child ADHD, to ADHD genetics, and in particular for this talk, to gene and environmental effects in ADHD. You can learn more and follow him at http://joelniggphd.com/

Webinar replays include:

  • Slides accompanying the webinar
  • Related resources from ADDitude
  • Free newsletter updates about ADHD

9 reviews

  1. The focus of this article seems to be that the ADD mind can be (and rightly should be) fixed. I’m saddened by this attitude. There are strengths that can be played up by eating healthy foods and taking certain measures. But to imply that the ADD brain can be changed to be like the non-ADD brain is limiting the capabilities of the ADD brain.

    “Environmental changes may re-set genes and even change which genes are turned on and turned off. That, in turn, changes how the brain develops and organizes itself. In effect, the environment can override genes to affect brain signaling.”

    This seems to imply we should “turn off” the ADD brain.

    1. Thank you for raising a sensitive point that I suspect many people also feel. Certainly, our goal here is to empower people and give them choices to enhance their own lives, not to turn them on or off or make them like everyone else. We aren’t trying to make people “normal” but to empower them to their best self. But that said, I think you touch on a deeper conceptual question: Is ADHD a unique style to be supported? Or is it the result of some kind of injury that prevents someone from achieving their developmental potential (I talk about this in my book actually on pages 32-34). My view is that it can be both—for some people, they have a particular style that gets labeled as ADHD but the main reason they have “problems” is that they are in a niche or context that doesn’t fit them. But for others, we are talking about a true injury—something has happened to disrupt their development and prevent them from becoming who they want to be or were “meant to be” if you will, in terms of their developmental potential. This “injury” could be due to insufficient nutrition, environmental poisons, anoxic events around birth, and so on (which cause epigenetic changes and lock in the harm). We have evidence of this from studies showing micro-ischemias in the brains of infants who go on to develop ADHD, for example, as well as studies of lead exposure and the brain (even in this case, there may be accompanying strengths of personality or thinking style that should be supported). In other words, it’s not the entire ‘ADHD mind/brain’ here, but the injury, the block to development, that concerns me. My goal is to help the individuals who are suffering because they aren’t able to move forward in their developmental potential, not to “normalize” those who bring a particular style that they are happy with—and that enriches the world. But when the suffering is intense, I want to offer options for relieving it and healing it. I hope this perspective is of some help in reassuring you, and others who I know share your concern.

  2. Once again a so called expert not understanding reality. First and foremost Genetics is not something that we can turn on and off like a light switch, or even close. This goes for the ADHD brain as well. Environment? Really? As a child I spent most of my time outside not around video games. For that matter video games consoles did not exist first few years and when they did come out it was stuff like pong. Two parents fixed balanced meals regardless of what I liked or disliked. The kicker is I was ADHD and as was my father. Environment cannot turn off genetics, this is yet more wishful thinking by another clueless researcher.

    1. It sounds like you have been poorly served by “experts”! Your experience is your own and you are right to validate it. Additionally, though, your comment underscores a central theme, which I tried to highlight in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of my book, that ADHD and its causes are not a “one-size-fits-all” proposition. I have received many emails and heard many experiences, some like yours, regarding how the genetic influence seems to be so strong that it doesn’t respond much to environment. However, I have heard as much or more from others who testify to dramatic changes in their symptoms and functioning after doing the work to make changes to diet, exercise, toxicant exposure, stress management, or other evidence-based influences. That is consistent with the new scientific model as well: As Chapter 2 outlines, with a complex condition like ADHD, the relative contribution of genetic influence and environmental modulation of genetic potential will vary quite a bit from one person to another. Because of the variation in everyone’s genetic make-up, there is wide variation in how we experience environmental interventions. Your experience sounds like it is at one one end of the spectrum, while many others are quite the opposite. I think appreciating this variation in how ADHD works is extremely important.

  3. All I can say is I feel better in certain environments and worse in others. My parents both smoked around me as a kid and my mom smoked her entire pregnancy. But I see that both my parents may have ADHD, and my grandma and my grandfather and my great grand mother. It’s either that or bi-polar disorder. I’m curious about the genetic origins of different aspects of personality. I like Psychology as a tool to understand where other people are coming from cognitively or emotionally. But when psychology becomes a tool to differentiate and label people as “normal” or “abnormal” when it’s used to single out what a certain group would deem, “desirable” then it becomes dangerous and Nazi like. Psychology offers us the ability to gain insight, but as more and more categories are added to the DSM, it can become a way to single people out and label them as outcasts. Or is psychology nothing more than an elaborate fortune cooky? No better than astrology?

    1. Your comment touches on several important underlying questions. First off, we should differentiate a few things. The robust science of psychology is quite well grounded in experimental studies. In my book’s introduction I outline what we mean by a valid scientific study (with a bit more detail in Chapter 3). The field of developmental psychopathology (the study of how mental health/wellness/illness develops) is increasingly well grounded as well in major population studies and experiments. We know a lot–thus the claims and updates in this book! However, this is distinct from the categories of psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Those categories serve two purposes: both to try to reflect clinical science, but also to create billing codes for the problems clinicians actually see in the office (regardless of the scientific validity of defining those problems as a disorder). The result of these conflicting goals is that the DSM is only partially grounded in science; it is also attempting to meet a variety of administrative purposes. It should not be seen as the final word on the science, since the main purpose is to help clinicians identify targeted problems. In fact, a lot of what we know about the biological structure of different kinds of mental health problems is rather different than what was able to fit into the DSM (see Chapters 1 and 2). You are right, in that vein, that there is always a danger of over-labeling. The clinicians have to make a basic decision every day: Will it be more harmful to label and treat, or to not label and not treat? My hope is that we can use psychological and biological knowledge to empower people to understand themselves and one another and to achieve their developmental potential. I am encouraged by the many stories I have heard about “treatment” for ADHD working well—whether it is a change in diet or a medication or counseling or otherwise—what I hear from parents and from individuals is that they “feel like themselves more than before”. In other words, their sense of true self becomes more clear, not less, after they address their problems. When treatment is wrong (or desperate), it really can obscure this sense of fuller potential. Finally you touch on how genes and environment fit in to the wonderful human variation in personality and style. The important message I think for our time is that we are realizing it is always a combination. Getting the specifics is now our challenge.

  4. I found this webinar to be extremely useful information, more so than many of the other articles I’ve read or webinars I’ve listened to in the past. I did not feel the aim of the content was to make anyone “normal”, more that it can help control some of the focus issues that make it difficult to complete tasks and assignments in recognizing outside factors and altering your environment.
    As an former teacher who recently discovered that I have been SUFFERING with ADHD while researching and doing everything in my power to help my oldest son who was diagnosed last year, and my younger son diagnosed yesterday, I believe information can only give us power – paying attention to the environmental factors that can play into causality and remedy some of the deficits living with this “special power” and adapting to a “neuro-typical” world. How do we teach our kids to turn in the homework that they spent so much time finishing last night? How do we keep their self-confidence up when they repeatedly forget to do so? If continuing to supplement Omega-3’s and finding them more opportunities to exercise (that they will enjoy) in addition to the healthy diet that I’ve already been providing will increase the likelihood of handing in that homework and making my kid feel less like he’s incompetent, then I’ve only gained validation from this webinar and have lost nothing. Understanding my ADHD and learning that while I may not be satisfied with a 9-to-5 desk job or even be good at one for very long, has provided the acceptance of myself and creating more space in my life for alternative career options that will satisfy me. Knowing that with my condition I have to spend more time paying focused attention to people when they’re speaking to me, that I have to use little tricks to keep myself from wandering off into the three other thought that popped into my head, realizing that it’s not that I’m a terrible person or a bad friend, it’s just that I need to learn how to adapt to be a better one. If there are ways to help our children learn this earlier in their lives, and create opportunities for them to have more fulfillment, then what is wrong with learning about options to do so? Nothing.

    1. Yes, your email captures well my intent. We’re not interested in making everyone the same—(“normal”)— how dull life would become! Rather, we want to relieve and hopefully, heal, the very intense, very real, suffering that people are experiencing, to empower people to become the vest version of themselves that they want to be, and to create options for how to do so.

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