Being good at sitting still, keeping your mouth shut, and settling into routines might be good for school, but not for long life. A brand new study has found that a gene that is strongly associated with ADHD also strongly correlates with longevity. This exciting news highlights the fact that an ADHD predisposition carries many benefits, most of which are just not discussed. The gene variant under examination in the study is a dopamine-receptor gene — called the DRD4 7R allele – and it appears in significantly higher rates in people more than 90 years old and is linked to lifespan increases in mouse studies.
This is not just a fly-by-night assertion. The scientists leading this study are world famous: Robert Moyzis is a professor of biological chemistry at UC Irvine, and Dr. Nora Volkow is a psychiatrist and researcher at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and also directs the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
This variant gene is part of the dopamine system, which is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. It is an integral part of the brain network responsible for attention and reward-driven learning. The DRD4 7R allele essentially weakens dopamine signaling, which then enhances a person’s sensitivity and reactivity to the environment. This variant is also associated with addiction, and is often called the “novelty-seeking” gene. When people with this predisposition do not find positive outlets for stimulation and excitement, they get these needs met negatively, as any teacher of a bored ADHD child will tell you! As Dr. Moyzis said, “People who carry this variant gene seem to be more motivated to pursue social, intellectual and physical activities.” Children with this gene variant need adults who understand their genetic hard-wiring, and who can thus help them properly channel their need for intensity and new stimulation.
Moyzis also pointed out that, “While the genetic variant may not directly influence longevity, it is associated with personality traits that have been shown to be important for living a longer, healthier life. It’s been well documented that the more you’re involved with social and physical activities, the more likely you’ll live longer. It could be as simple as that.” Let’s not forget that being active is crucial for successful aging, and it may delay or deter the advancement of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
Incidentally, prior molecular evolutionary research has shown that this gene variant was present in a high percentage of people during the nomadic out-of-Africa human exodus more than 30,000 years ago. The people with this gene variant were the ones that said, “Hey, let’s cross the desert. Maybe there’s something cool on the other side.”
We live today in a largely sedentary, farmer-like society. The movers, dreamers, and risk-takers of the world struggle to get their needs met, and live up to their full potential. We need to realize, as a society, that these people hold power to imagine, create, and discover. We would only be doing ourselves a favor by helping them channel their innate gift for innovation. And maybe, as a result, we would all live happier, healthier, and longer lives!
On one final note, ADHD drugs can help narrow the gap in executive functions created by some of these gene variants, a topic I will cover soon.
D. L. Grady, P. K. Thanos, M. M. Corrada, J. C. Barnett, V. Ciobanu, D. Shustarovich, A. Napoli, A. G. Moyzis, D. Grandy, M. Rubinstein, G.-J. Wang, C. H. Kawas, C. Chen, Q. Dong, E. Wang, N. D. Volkow, R. K. Moyzis. DRD4 Genotype Predicts Longevity in Mouse and Human.Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (1):