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ADHD and DNA: Children, Mothers With Psychiatric Disorder Have Shorter Telomeres

First Posted: Sep 28, 2015 05:46 PM EDT

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is  rated as one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders in childhood and typically follows on and into adulthood.

Now, new findings published in the journal Frontiers of Molecular Neuroscience suggest that children with ADHD and their mothers are more likely to have shorter telomeres, putting them at an increased risk of early death; this also increases the risk for chronic diseases and conditions like diabetes, obesity and cancer. However, researchers did not find any alterations in the father's telomere length.

Though telomere shortening happens naturally with aging, researches indicate the process is can be accelerated by both psychological and biological stress. In other words, the shorter the telomeres are, shorter an individual's biological life expectancy is.

"When people think about behavioral issues with children, they think about the psychological component and how that impacts school performance and interaction with society," Paulo Mattos, one of the study authors said in a statement. "These kind of impact are real, but what we are showing for the first time now is that TDAH can impact at the cellular level, at the DNA."

During the study, researchers assessed the length of telomeres from 61 ADHD children between the ages of 6 and 16, along with their parents. Findings revealed shorter telomere length in the children than those that would be expected for their ages. The researchers also noted that hyperactivity symptoms are more related to telomere length than inattention symptoms. Lastly, they observed that higher levels of hyperactivity in children were associated with shorter relative telomere in ADHD children and their mothers, researchers said. 

"This makes sense if you think that hyperactivity is the symptom that affects more negatively the family and causes more stress," Mattos said. "It is usually the reason why parents search for medical care in the first place."

The findings underscore the importance of intervening early to address behavior issues in children to prevent psychosocial stress and shortening of telomeres.

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