Hypothyroidism & ADD/ADHD: What You Must Know As A Parent To Protect Your Child

Hypothyroidism and ADD/ADHD

Since the launch of Hypothyroid Mom last year I’ve been contacted by several readers about their children suffering from ADD and ADHD. Therefore I was particularly intrigued when I read a post on Dr Kirk Gair’s Facebook page about the connection between hypothyroidism and ADD/ADHD. I asked Dr Gair to write a guest post for Hypothyroid Mom. Thank you Dr Gair.

Written by Dr Kirk Gair, www.facebook.com/thyroidinfo

It seems like it’s an epidemic these days, and can be so frustrating for parents to deal with. You know that your child is a good kid and is smart, yet they just can’t seem to focus, can’t sit still, and don’t perform like you know they could in school.

Despite all the best parenting, tutoring, and despite visits to doctors, it can seem like there are few options other than strong meds with their side effects. Is there another option? And how do we prevent this from happening in the first place?

This one hits close to home for me. If I were a student today, I’m pretty sure I would be on Ritalin or some other medication. I remember trying my best to focus, to behave, to remember to bring my homework or my permission slip for a field trip, and even praying to God every morning that I could stay focused and out of trouble…usually to no avail.

One day, my elementary principal asked me, “What’s going on with you? I know you’re a good kid, and you score high on standardized tests, but your behavior and grades don’t reflect it. I don’t understand why you can’t just ‘keep your nose clean’? Actually, I didn’t understand it either…

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Perhaps you went through it yourself, or are going through it with your kids. Why are we seeing this happen so much today?

Learning disorders are estimated to affect as many as 1 in 8 kids today, with boys being more likely than girls. ADD/ADHD seem to be an epidemic, with more kids being put on meds like Ritalin every day.

But many of them may be misdiagnosed and given these meds unnecessarily, and far too many doctors write a knee jerk prescription without a proper exam, medical history workup, or bloodwork.

After struggling with this issue as a kid, and then for a large part of my adult life, I am finally free of this awful condition. Here is what you need to know and do to find the root cause for you or your child, and also how you can PREVENT it if you are planning on having kids.

IT ALL STARTS IN THE WOMB

How many times have you heard from your doctor that there was no reason to worry about antibodies as long as TSH was in the normal range? A research study in the Feb 2012 edition of the journal Thyroid states the following conclusion:

“Our findings imply that the elevated titers of TPOAbs during pregnancy impact children’s risk of problem behavior, in particular, attention deficit/hyperactivity. The observed effect is only partially explained by maternal TSH levels. These findings may point to a specific mechanism of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Nevertheless, we can only speculate about public health implication of the study, as there is no specific treatment for TPOAb-positive pregnant women with normal thyroid function.”

Not only are there studies linking maternal auto immunity to ADHD, but there are also studies linking it to Autism as well. The mother can have antibodies against brain tissue that can actually target the child’s brain in utero (Ann Neurol. 2013 Aug 13. doi: 10.1002/ana.23976, and J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Sep 11). This explains another mechanism for the increased rates we are seeing with autism as well.

This is pretty significant, and underlies the importance of testing your antibodies. If you have positive antibodies, you need to find out what foods and mechanisms are triggering them. The most common foods will be gluten and casein, but I recommend getting tested to verify. Continued ingestion of foods that trigger antibody production can cause those antibodies to target fetal tissue as well.

With the information from these current research studies, do you think that it is still wise to simply ignore your antibody levels? Sadly, this is exactly what too many doctors are still doing.

SUBCLINICAL THYROID (NORMAL RANGES) CAN STILL CAUSE DYSFUNCTION IN THE CHILD

This is quite significant, as we all have heard “your TSH is normal so you are fine.” However, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology in June 2007 showed that “Despite being within the normal range, high TSH concentrations are associated with a lower cognitive function, and high TSH and low free T4 with ADHD symptoms in healthy preschoolers.”

This study suggested that if the TSH was just in the upper 25% of the NORMAL range, that there was a correlation with learning disorders and ADHD. These findings were also supported in another research study in J Child Psychol Psychiatry 1996 Jul;37(5):579-85, which found that higher levels of thyroid hormones correlated with increased distractability.

As with the maternal study, these risks were increased with just subclinical hypothyroid, and even with normal thyroid and just antibodies.

SO WHAT DO WE NEED TO DO?

First off, you need to get proper testing prior to pregnancy and get your thyroid as optimal as possible. This means insisting on getting not just TSH and T4 tested, but also T3 free and total, T3 uptake, and thyroid antibodies.

If antibodies are present, I would get tested for intestinal permeability and gluten reactions. Avoid doing just the alpha gliadin and transglutaminase test, as it can yield a lot of false negatives. I would run the Cyrex Labs array 2 to test for intestinal permeability, which is extremely common with auto immunity. I would also run the Array 3 which tests for 24 reactions to more gluten proteins than the 2 most common. Also, some doctors will only look for Celiac disease. It is important to assess even if you just have gluten sensitivity without actual Celiac’s, as it can still cause a lot of destruction.

I would eliminate all gluten at minimum, and consider eliminating casein, corn, and soy. You may want to consider following an auto immune paleo type of diet as well. Of course, I recommend that you seek the help of a qualified practitioner to help you with this. This physician must be knowledgeable about auto immune conditions, how to test for them, and how to create nutritional protocols for them.

You also need to look at the blood work for any glucose dysfunctions, anemias, hormonal imbalances, inflammation, chronic infections, etc.

If you see ADD/ADHD symptoms in your child, I would run these tests on them as well. I would also go gluten free and even grain free as well. I highly recommend that you also read the book Grain Brain by neurologist Dr David Perlmutter for more details on how gluten and grains affect brain function.

I would also seek the help of a doctor trained in functional medicine and functional neurology. He or she can assess any neurological imbalances as well, and prescribe specific neurological rehabilitation exercises to help with brain integration.

I hope you have found this information helpful. If you have questions, please feel free to message or follow me at www.facebook.com/thyroidinfo

Dr Kirk Gair was trained in functional medicine by Dr Datis Kharrazian, who was his classmate and friend since chiropractic school. Prior to becoming a doctor, he was a middle school and high school teacher, had suffered with A.D.D. and undiagnosed Hashimoto’s since childhood, and finally overcame them with the techniques he learned from Dr Kharrazian. Dr Gair has been in private practice in So. California since 1999, where in addition to functional medicine and chiropractic he also specializes in advanced cold laser therapies for injuries, and treats many college and professional athletes. He has a facebook page at www.facebook.com/thyroidinfo and also www.laserchiropractic.net

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About Dana Trentini

Who knew that little butterfly-shaped thyroid gland at the base of my neck could affect my life so completely? I founded Hypothyroid Mom in memory of the unborn baby I lost to hypothyroidism. Winner of two 2014 WEGO Health Activist Awards: Health Activist Hero & Best In Show Twitter. *Hypothyroid Mom includes Affiliate links. Connect with me on Google+

Comments

  1. Awesome article. I find it too hard to stick to a gluten free diet. I love food! This week I purchased all the necessary ingredients to give it another try. I hope to have a few things for you to taste soon.

  2. Thank you ! This is VERY interesting.

    It has me Rethinking my childhood school difficulties and praying my kids will not experience the same .

    • Dana Trentini says:

      Hi Kathryn, yes I was intrigued by this topic when I saw Dr Gair post about it on his Facebook page. It’s sad really what lack of awareness there is about the dangers of hypothyroidism.

      • Hi Kathryn, if you had difficulties in school, make sure to get your kids tested properly, both for the thyroid and also for gluten reactions. The sooner you do this the better it will be for their brain function and health. Make sure when you test them for gluten that you do a thorough test like the Cyrex Array 3 which tests for 24 gluten reactions.

  3. Hello Dana,
    I have been tested for adult adhd recently. I have a lot of adhd symptoms without hyperactivity.
    I’m also on 100mcg T4 only. My TSH is at 0,4 and my ft3 and ft4 are in the middle of the norm. My doc said it’s all fine.
    However, I also had my iodine levels measured and my iodine was absolutely borderline!
    My doc didn’t even comment on this.
    My antibodies were measured and they were normal. Now I don’t know what to do.
    Should I start supplementing iodine? I know that iodine is dangerous for people with AI thyroid disorders but since my antibodies are okay I don’t seem to have this.
    What’s your take on iodine? Did you have your levels measured, too?

  4. Hi,

    My 11yo daughter has ADHD and I’ve recently discovered my lifelong struggles with getting organised, finishing tasks, focusing to study, and feeling constantly overwhelmed are also due to this disorder. I’m 38 now so it’s something of a learning curve.

    Thing is, I also have thyroid troubles and though I fluctuate from time-to-time, there have been times I’ve been optimally treated (with Armour or T3/T4 combo).
    Basically, it wasn’t enough to resolve my ADD symptoms. Did it HELP? Oh, yes! If I’m hypo, I am absolutely much, much worse. But it wasn’t enough on its own. Seems to me I have both conditions (and coeliac disease, lucky me!) and have to take meds for each.

    I’m just telling my story because I want people to realise that these sorts of things can co-exist. I was hoping dealing with my health problems would “cure” the mental health side of things and was disappointed when it didn’t do enough. For some people, absolutely the ADHD could be a symptom of thyroid problems and nothing more. But not for us all.

    Love your blog!

    • Dana Trentini says:

      Hi Carly,

      Absolutely it’s possible to have ADD/ADHD from completely separate causes than hypothyroidism. The issue really is that when a child or adult presents with ADD or ADHD, full thyroid testing would not normally be considered part of the testing. There is very little awareness about this potential connection. The other thing you should consider too for yourself and your daughter is to be sure you have all the right tests and for yourself that you are optimally treated. Thyroid advocate Mary Shomon includes this list of recommended tests and optimal ranges. It would be worth it to check you and your daughter have had these tests done and if your scores are optimal.

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151719609086481&set=a.382208591480.164472.377405846480&type=1

      I’m personally on natural desiccated thyroid and I feel TERRIBLE when my Free T3 is low or middle of the range. I only feel well with reduction of symptoms when my Free T3 is top quarter of the range. In addition to that I am treated for poor adrenal function, low iron, D3, B12, magnesium, zinc and selenium (which should all be tested for you too).

      http://hypothyroidmom.com/the-thyroid-worlds-queen-t3/

      Be sure your testing includes thyroid antibodies for Hashimoto’s. When you have one autoimmune condition such as Celiac Disease you are more vulnerable to have others such as Hashimoto’s.

      http://hypothyroidmom.com/hypo-like-a-rock-star-hashimotos/

  5. This information has got me pretty concerned. I had a TT in 07 due to thyca and have had stomach issues ever since but have not made any serious changes to my diet. My tubes were tied in 04 and I have been seriously looking into having the procedure reversed. If I decide to go ahead with it and become pregnant, is this something I need to be concerned about? Do I need to go on a gluten free diet atleast while pregnant? This is the first I’ve ever read about such things but then again I just got serious about having another child.

  6. This is the first heard that my Hashimoto’s could be connected to my son’s behavior. Background…I was Dx with Hashi’s at age 26. I married at age 30 and repeatedly miscarried. I have tried countless meds to regulate my thyroid and found that 100mcg of Synthroid is the best for me. No added meds for thyroid…tried them and everything gets wacky. My eyes are one of my worst symptoms of the hyperthyroid side. Forward to one adoption, and then a successful IVF with a donor egg. that is my son. All my levels remained normal during pregnancy and I was tested monthly by my endo. I did develop gestational diabetes so followed a strict diet that kept my blood levels perfect BUT, my son never stopped moving in utero, and still has major issues sitting still and attending. He’s now 6 and in full-day K.
    I am very familiar with ADHD, as my daughter, age 8, has early onset bi-polar and ADHD. Changing her diet did nothing to ease any symptoms. For the sake of our entire family, meds are necessary. They gave me back my daughter.
    Back to my son. EVERYONE tells us about his inability to attend, and I think it is time to see if he also has ADHD. (Honestly, compared to Bi-Polar , that seems like a walk in the park.) I’ve been a little reluctant because i have seen him attend just fine. Maybe we should try diet changes again. He is just such a picky eater, and cant afford to lose weight–also my concern for the ADHD meds. Thoughts? Suggestions?

    • Dana Trentini says:

      Hi Alis,

      There are many different reasons why a child develops ADD/ADHD, and one of those possible reasons is maternal hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s. I have issues with this with my older son who is now 7. I have personally found that changing his diet to a gluten-free diet has helped immensely. His teachers have noted his improvement in attention and behavior. I also took my son to see a child neurologist who focuses on homeopathy to treat ADHD and this is has also worked wonders.

  7. Another factor is the dye in levothyroxine medications. Several use FD&C dyes (notably 5 & 6) that are widely associated with ADD and ADHD. As thyroid patients I wish there was something we could do to stop this. The medication is a petroleum product made from coal tar and has no business in endocrine medication.

    • Dana Trentini says:

      Vee, thanks for sharing this important information. I didn’t realize the connection between the dyes and ADD and ADHD. I have readers who report all types of different bodily reactions to different thyroid drug brands. I’ve wondered about the dyes, fillers and binding agents.

  8. I would be very interested in learning more about kids and hypothyroidism. I have hashimoto’s and was not diagnosed til after my first child was born, and then was on armour during my second pregnanacy. Both my kids have multiple food allergies and now I suspect my eldest has thyroid issues too, but not the conventional symptoms the average doctor looks for, after reading a different article you recently shared. And I think my youngest is developing asthma. Are these related to my having hashimotos? So little information out there. I am so thankful you are touching on the subject!!

  9. I have two kids with two different types of ADHD. I finally got them on meds 3 years ago, but I’ve recently put them on a gluten-free diet. After 7 weeks, my daughter (inattentive type) has shown so much progress that I’ve been able to cut her dosage by two-thirds. My son (classic type) has been gluten-free for 6 weeks, but has not shown any progress. It is possible that he needs more time to detox, since his eating habits were far worse than my daughter’s.

  10. Just wanted to put my info out there in hopes it may help someone else recognize symptoms and misdiagnosis in their own family. I am a 36yr old mother of 4 kids. I have been sick for years not knowing what it could be. I have been treated for hypothyroidism for 16yrs. Ive been prescribed adderall, Vitamins, antidepressants, anti-anxiety and pain meds over the years to help my symptoms all with no luck. I was beginning to think I was a hypochondriac. I have had all the typical symptoms over the years and they have slowly gotten worse. I started tying in things my family has been diagnosed with and now making a connection with symptoms in my own kids. I suffered from high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, and pre-term labor in all 4 pregnancies. Each baby had to be hospitalized for jaundice and respiratory distress. I had 2 babies with failure to thrive and developmental delays. 1 baby with low muscle mass/floppy and had to go to pt for months. Now kids are older and all 4 have ADD or ADHD, 1 with dyslexia, 2 with anxiety/depression, 5 yr old had to have gallbladder removed. Im hoping to stop any further damage to them with t4/t3 & antibody testing. So concerned because my mother and grandmother have suffered with hypothyroid like me but i believe they have been misdiagnosed for years and it has taken a toll on them and caused one problem to turn into another. They have both been diagnosed with EXACTLY the same things like heart failure, major depression, osteoporosis, arthritis, gallbladder/appendicitis, vitamin D deficiency, IBS, acid reflux, diabetes etc. Is this the road I am destined to go down if I dont get a proper diagnosis…my kids to follow…maybe even their children? No way! Hoping for some answers soon!

  11. Hi Liz, you should check out the Gaps diet. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort it could fundamentally change your life. Also check out Dr Perlmutter.

  12. My 6 year old son was recently diagnosed with ADHD and he has some OCD tendencies and motor stereotyping, which is mainly in the form of hand flapping. I have also had many health issues and have been told I’m just a tired mother of 3 young children. I am frustrated to say the least! A little off subject, but…I am planning on having my son tested for Fragile X Syndrome. He is very smart and reached normal milestones, so I believe he might only be mildly affected. I was wondering if anyone knows if there is a correlation between Fragile X and hypothyroidism…I have had my TSH tested, and Free T4…over a year, my TSH has remained .69-.67 (lab range .4-4.5) and my Free T4 at 1 (lab range .8-1.8). I am told these are really good, but I have so many symptoms of hypothyroidism, I’m left wondering where to go from here. Thanks for any thoughts or input!

  13. “You also need to look at the blood work for any glucose dysfunctions, anemias, hormonal imbalances, inflammation, chronic infections, etc.”

    Can you tell me what exactly I would have to ask the doctor to include in the prescription for the lab test? These terms seem very generic to my eyes.

    Thank you for the very informative article, and for mentioning the other tests I can take.

  14. Jessica says:

    Hi there. My 6 year old son is going to special education class next monday. Teachers and school staffs said he might have ADHD, because he doesn’t follow the directions well. My son’s doctor called me that his recent blood test shows his thyroid is not normal. Also my son has a expressive language delays. Last 2-3 years I have unusual tiredness, stresses and hives. Recently my allergy doctor tested my blood and test says my thyroid antibodies are over 1000. I went to thyroid doctor and she tested T3, T4, TSH and called me all test results are normal. Please tell me good thyroid doctors for me and for my son if possible. We live in Long Beach, CA.

  15. Tasha Clark says:

    My daughter 11 is having to see an endocrinologist because she is two years behind on her growth. I blame it on the ADHD meds. She has to take them if she don’t her grades are jot good chase she can’t focus. Never tried changing diet as it would be hard due to money issues. My 6 year old is on ADHD meds that were working up till 2 weeks ago he’s getting notes home. He has speech language delay slight form of autism significant developmental delay hemihypertrophy. I had placenta previa with him. He has no thyroid testing done yet. I wasn’t diagnosed with graves until my third child and he has bad behavior problems. In so lost as to what to do. Should I demand all four children have all these tests?

    • Tasha, I’m sorry to hear this about your children. Thyroid conditions can be hereditary. Absolutely insist on having your children tested. Graves is an autoimmune condition so be sure their antibodies are tested for both Graves and Hashimoto’s too.

  16. Is a very high TSH okay as long as T3 and T4 are in range?

    Here are my dad’s results:

    Thyroid peroxidase Antibody 156.2 IU/ml <34
    Thyroglobulin Antibody 75.68 IU/ml <4.11

    T3 0.97 ng/ml 0.58 1.59
    T4 5.3 ug/ml 4.87 11.72
    TSH 6.439 uIU/ml 0.35 4.94
    FREE T3 2.75 pg/ml 1.71 3.71
    FREE T4 1.11 ng/ml 0.7 1.48

    So these are the values for each test and the reference ranges provided by the lab. His T3 and T4 seem to be in range and TSH is very high (when compared to the upper threshold of 3 in the US. In India 5 is still the upper threshold).
    His doctor said that he does not need any thyroid medicine. I'm convinced that all the trouble he has had over the last 30 years are due to his thyroid, so it is high time he gets it treated.

    Also, his T3 and T4 levels are at the lower end of what is considered normal by my lab in the US.

  17. Bridget C says:

    The article refers to an article in the June 2007 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology – do you know the title of the article. It wasn’t clear to me when I tried to find it. If my son’s basal temps are consistently low I would like to be armed with a scientific article when I ask him to test and possibly treat. I wish more docs could accurately administer the reflex test. Seems like it would particularly helpful to a pediatrician in particular. Especially if the TSH is expected to be ‘within range’ (relatively of course)!

  18. Matt Koper says:

    Hey Dana! I’m 19 years old and was diagnosed with ADD my sophomore year in high school. I have all the symptoms: impulsivity, inattention, lack of energy, mood swings, anxiety, etc. I take medication for my ADD, Daytrana to be specific. My mom also has ADD and my half brother does as well (same mom different dad). After all these long years, my mom has gone gluten free and has become so gluten intolerant where it will confine her too her bed for days if she eats it. After reading these, I figured there is an obvious connection between ADD and thyroid issues which my mother clearly has. She had eaten gluten her whole life up until about 2 years ago. My question is should I be going gluten free now? How does this all this effect me and my thyroid as well? I want to stop a potential problem before it gets worse and be healthy. Any tips or information would be greatly appreciated!
    -Matt Koper

    • Hi Matt, this is Dr Gair. I know how you feel with the ADD as I went through that as well but without meds. It can’t hurt you to go gluten free, despite what many uninformed people in the media and some doctors say. If you do a healthy gluten free diet, and not one that is made up of gluten free processed junk food, it may be helpful for you, especially with a family history of thyroid problems. If you are unsure about it, you can get lab testing from Cyrex Labs to see for sure if you are reactive to gluten. They run the most comprehensive gluten test out there, while many labs only test for 1 or 2 types of reactions. As for your thyroid, you may be in a state where you are currently producing thyroid antibodies each time you eat gluten. Most MDs won’t care about this until enough destruction of the gland occurs that you need meds. However, if you remove gluten while you are just in the “Hashimoto’s Reaction” phase, where you have antibodies and normal labs, you can possibly prevent ever needing thyroid meds because you can stop or slow down the destruction. If you have antibodies and continue to eat gluten, you will continue to destroy thyroid tissue until you may need meds in the future. I have been gluten and dairy free for 4 years now, and have virtually no thyroid or ADD symptoms anymore. I am not saying that for sure you will have the same results, but it can greatly improve your function if you get after all the causes. I would also take a look at Dr Kharrazian’s book “Why Isn’t My Brain Working” for more ideas. I hope this helps!

Trackbacks

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