A new study suggests that the thin air of America's higher-elevation regions may reduce the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Scientists report that the occurrence of ADHD decreases substantially as altitude increases.
They said that Utah, for example, has an average state elevation of 6,100 feet. That state's ADHD rate is half that of states at sea level. However, it is important to note though that the current study's design can only show a link between altitude and a lower incidence of ADHD. The research can't prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
But the scientists still suspect that brain chemistry may be affected by the lower oxygen levels at higher elevations.
Dr. Douglas Kondo, a child psychiatrist and brain imaging researcher at the University of Utah's Brain Institute and University Neuropsychiatric Institute said that levels of dopamine - one of the brain's chemical messengers - increase as someone adapts to oxygen-depleted air.
Kondo and his research team have theorized that as dopamine levels increase with elevation, the risk for developing ADHD diminishes.
"The idea is that if your symptoms are on the borderline of clinical ADHD - it's affecting your family life and your academic life - the effects of high altitude are beneficial," Kondo said.
However, the finding doesn't mean parents in low-lying states should pack up their ADHD kids and set out for Rocky Mountain high.
Kondo concludes that mountain height along with the additional physical activity is likely to improve a child's symptoms.
The research was published online in the Journal of Attention Disorders.