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Exploring the Role of Serotonin in ADHD

written by: M. Staker • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/16/2010

The neurotransmitter, serotonin, plays an important role in ADHD. Find out how the levels of serotonin can cause ADHD symptoms and how to increase those levels to relieve those symptoms.

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    The Role of Serotonin

    Serotonin is a type of neurotransmitter that is produced in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps to regulate the cardiovascular system, the renal system, the immune system, and the gastrointestinal system. Studies show that low levels of serotonin can be responsible for many different mental and learning disorders. Some experts believe that low serotonin levels are also responsible for causing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Based on a study conducted at Duke University, experts have good reason to believe that this may be true. Although the effect of low serotonin levels in people with ADHD is still not quite understood, research does suggest that there is a strong relationship between serotonin and ADHD.

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    How Serotonin Levels Affect ADHD

    It has often been thought that the popular drug, Ritalin, used to treat the symptoms of ADHD, works by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain, but now researchers are finding that there might actually be more to this drug than originally thought. Researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Center at Duke University studied Ritalin, as well as other stimulants that are used to treat ADHD, and discovered that these stimulants also increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Drugs which increase availability of serotonin have been used to treat depression for years, because of its effects. Raising the level of serotonin in the brain seems to lessen the hyperactivity associated with ADHD by causing the dopamine levels and serotonin levels to reach a proper balance. The bottom line is, without a proper balance of dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain, the symptoms of ADHD might still be present, even if the individual is being treated for the disorder.

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    How People with ADHD Can Increase Serotonin Levels

    Since research suggests that there is an important relationship between serotonin and ADHD, it is important for people with this disorder to keep those levels up. There are a few ways to increase the level of serotonin in the brain. The most common way to increase these levels is to take a stimulant drug that is used to treat ADHD. Most prescription antidepressants also help to boost the levels of serotonin in the brain. There are also several over the counter supplements that claim to increase the levels of serotonin, though they have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Individuals can naturally increase their serotonin levels by eating certain foods. Eating plenty of green vegetables can raise these levels because they are high in vitamin B6. Other foods that increase serotonin levels in the brain include poultry, omega 3 fatty acids, and whole grains. Eating a diet that is rich in folate is important to maintaining healthy levels of serotonin. Folate deficiency is very common, and has been proven to decrease the levels of serotonin in the brain.