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Natural Awakenings Central Florida / Orlando

The Genetics of ADD and ADHD

Jul 31, 2023 09:31AM ● By Dwight Franklin, MSOM, L.Ac
After over a decade working with children with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, I can honestly say that nothing has been more practice changing in a positive manner as the implementation of Genetic Testing.

For many years I had been utilizing other great Functional Medicine lab reports to help families understand and find solutions for their child’s brain health concerns. One of those labs was the Neurolab, which looks at neurotransmitter imbalances. Within the last couple of years, I have found that a Gene Analysis is a Neurolab’s best friend and faithful sidekick.

Where the Neurolab looks at specific neurotransmitter levels, a proper Gene Analysis looks at how well those brain chemicals are being utilized. Through this analysis we have an idea on:

• How Fast or Slow a person may be creating neurotransmitters

• How Fast or Slow a person may be receiving neurotransmitters into the neurons

• How Fast or Slow a person may be storing neurotransmitters in the brain

• How Fast or Slow a person may be degrading neurotransmitters.

The Neurolab has always been phenomenal in helping parents understand what brain chemical imbalances their child currently has. The Gene Analysis takes it a step further by giving parents greater insight into why those imbalances may be happening in the first place. Not only that, the Gene Analysis also can give very intricate details of what may give a more balanced neuro profile.

A Gene is effectively the blueprint of the body that gives instructions to make specific enzymes. Those enzymes then go on to speed up chemical reactions within a person. Regarding brain health, there are genes that make specific enzymes which are responsible for speeding up the creation, reception, storing, and degrading of neurotransmitters. This can greatly affect a person’s overall brain function.

Let’s look at this in action.

The brain has a gene called COMT which is responsible for making the enzyme called the COMT enzyme. The C in this abbreviation stands for Catecholamines. Catecholamines are the excitatory neurotransmitters consisting of Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine that all play a great role in focus, motivation, learning, memory, and vigilance. In the case of the COMT enzyme, its role is to speed up the degradation of these excitatory neurotransmitters.

The COMT gene, just like all other genes, can have variations (mutations in the gene which are also called SNPs). Depending upon the specific gene variation, it can make an enzyme function at a FASTER rate or a SLOWER rate.

A person who has a FASTER functioning COMT enzyme would be degrading those neurotransmitters at a faster rate meaning possibly lowered catecholamines. A person with this type of variation may have less focus and less motivation. However, this person may also be a very calm person as catecholamines can also make us anxious and easily frustrated when they are in excess.

A person who has a SLOWER functioning COMT enzyme would be degrading those neurotransmitters at a slower rate meaning possibly increased levels of catecholamines. This person may have great focus and motivation due to the higher levels of excitatory neurotransmitters but may also have a short temper and be prone to anxiety.

A Child’s Genetic Story

A Genetic Story is what I call an instance when a person has several gene variations with similar function that are all contributing to a specific neurotransmitter imbalance.

For example, let’s say we have a child who is very unmotivated and inattentive. The parents do a gene analysis for the child and find that the child has a FASTER COMT gene variation. This could lead the child to having lower levels of those catecholamines. That alone could be a cause of this child’s lack of motivation and poor focus. But when we inquire further into the gene analysis, it is also found that the child has variations in other genes as well that further exacerbate the imbalance by:

• Decreasing the production of Dopamine in the brain

• Decreasing the reception of Dopamine and Norepinephrine in the brain

• Decreasing the storage of Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine in the brain

These additional gene variations combined with the FASTER COMT may lead to very low levels of those excitatory neurotransmitters. This may cause that child’s brain to be incredibly lacking in stimulation.

Epigenetics – How Lifestyle Affects Gene Expression

Nothing in a Genetic Analysis is very useful without the understanding of Epigenetics and how we can make that gene expression work for our child.

For the unmotivated, unfocused child that I just spoke of, an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters is what is needed to help this child become better focused and motivated. To accomplish this we can implement several strategies. For starters, we can supplement the child with amino acids and vitamins such as L-tyrosine and B12 respectively. Both L-tyrosine and B12 are co-factors that help to create the neurotransmitters Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Epinephrine. We could also increase focus by making changes to the child’s diet. Increasing the consumption of protein and fat and decreasing the consumption of processed carbohydrates has been shown to increase focus. Finally, we may need to really look at lessening such activities as screen time. Although screen time does give an initial boost in dopamine, it uses dopamine up quickly like a race car burning through fuel. This will leave very little dopamine for other concentrating tasks such as school work. A child such as this already has too little dopamine as it is. The last thing the child needs is to be lowering it further through excessive gaming or other screen time activities.

There are countless ways in which a child’s genetics could be affecting their brain health and behavior. When we understand the child’s genetic profile, we can start to implement the right solutions for diet, supplementation, and lifestyle changes. This has far reaching implications as your genetics do not change. Therefore teaching the child today how to have optimal brain function based on their genetics is information that the child can use and revisit for the rest of their life.

Dwight Franklin, MSOM, L.Ac is the founder of The Franklin Family Wellness Institute and the creator of “The Elementary Method.” He is a graduate and former Professor of the Florida College of Integrative Medicine. Over the course of his career, Dwight has worked alongside pediatricians and psychiatrists in developing wellness programs to optimize brain health in children and adults.

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