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June 26, 2019  
UTERINE NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Links Between in Utero Tobacco Exposure and ADHD

    My Mother Made Me Do it – Links Between in Utero Tobacco Exposure and ADHD

    August 15, 2005

    By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1

    “The Story of Fidgety Phillip” was first described by Heinrich Hoffman, M.D., and it’s been a cyclical spiral one way or the other for ADHD children (and adults) ever since. Kids that bully, destroy belongings, steal, lie, and are generally rebellious and disobedient?
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    ADHD is estimated to affect up to 6 percent of children which equate to approximately 2 million kids or one in every classroom of 25 to 30 youngsters.

    Characteristics commonly exhibited in this conduct disorder ADHD:

    Poor attention span



    Prone to anti-social behavior

    Sigh. What’s a mother to do? Well… stop smoking for one thing say two recent studies – at least before having more kids.

    That’s right, along with all the other things moms get blamed for, now comes their children’s exceptionally bad behavior – that unruly attitude that Europeans term hyperkinetic disorder, eschewing the English language-style acronym ADHD that stands for the dashed and slashed label: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

    According to Simon Chapman, Ph.D., professor of public health at the University of Sydney in Australia and editor of the journal Tobacco Control, this latest word that he considers reliable and significant “is just another black mark against smoking.”

    One study of twins published in the British Journal of Psychiatry by researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London concluded that risks to fetuses increased with the number of cigarettes pregnant women smoked daily. Questionnaires sent to parents of 1,896 twins total born in Manchester between 1980 and 1991indicated that in the 33 percent of the women that smoked there was a small 4 to 11 percent incidence of ADHD.

    Tanya Button, Ph.D. lead researcher says the most commonly cited cause connecting maternal tobacco use with subsequent behavior problems in children is nicotine’s apparent ability to cause neurological impairment in the developing fetus. Eric Taylor, Ph.D., also professor at the Institute of Psychiatry muddied the mix, though, noting that it was also possible that mothers were simply transmitting “anti-social behaviour genes” to their children and that smoking while potentially a factor was not necessarily involved.

    Still, since the idea of that kids who start life with enough nicotine in their system to inhibit a full boat of oxygen from reaching their brains is one that experts just cannot leave alone.

    Another study published in the August issue of Pediatrics has come from Danish researchers who compared and contrasted 170 hyperkinetic (ADHD) children with 3,700 healthy ones. The group was born between 1991 and 1994 and matched by age, sex and date of birth. Also, to avoid what researchers call “recall bias,” information related to mothers’ smoking patterns was gathered prior to their children being diagnosed with ADHD.

    The team from Denmark essentially found that children with mothers who smoked during pregnancy developed hyperkinetic disorder at a rate almost twice that of kids whose moms refrained. If you want the precise stats, they are that ADHD kids were found in 59 percent of smoking mothers as compared to only 35 percent in those who didn’t light up.

    “This study serves to underline the fact that women who are pregnant should stop smoking. We are not able to make a certain conclusion, but this study points out that there is an association between smoking and ADHD,” said Karen Markussen Linnet, M.D. lead researcher and pediatrician at Aarchus University Hospital in Denmark.

    Linnet goes on, though, to caution that ADHD could be as much an inherited condition as it is one arising from biological impairment due to tobacco. “Nicotine acts as a stimulant, and young adults with hyperkinetic disorders who are pregnant could be using nicotine as a stimulant. But it is very difficult to adjust for this factor, and it is important that we not make final conclusions.”

    Gary Giovino, Ph.D. senior research scientist in the department of cancer prevention, epidemiology, and biostatistics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, concurs with Linnet. “This is a very interesting study. The authors have controlled for a lot of confounding factors, and it is certainly biologically plausible that smoking could damage the fetus – less oxygen is going to the brain, nicotine itself is a poison, and lots of other studies have found associations between smoking and poor cognitive development,” said Giovino who also notes that even so, social factors often blamed for the disorder cannot be discounted. “There is strong reason to believe that smoking is a risk factor for ADHD, but at this stage of the research we certainly don’t know for sure because of genetics and environmental risk factors like use of drugs and poor nutritional status.”

    Last updated: 15-Aug-05


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