Michelle Martel Investigates the Impact of Hormones on ADHD

In January, the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published findings that show a 700 percent increase in the number women in their late 20s who filled a prescription for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication between 2003 and 2015.

It’s a finding of particular interest to Michelle Martel, an associate professor in psychology in the UK College of Arts & Sciences. She is studying how hormones impact the expression of ADHD symptoms in young women.

She gathered data through a pilot project on ADHD in 30 women thanks to funding from the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women's Health (BIRCWH) program. BIRCWH not only supports researchers in their work, but also jump-starts careers, aids in the publication of research and helps forge partnerships and mentorships across disciplines. She is currently writing a grant proposal to NIH based on that data.

“My BIRCWH pilot data suggests that women’s ADHD symptoms actually change cyclically across the menstrual cycle in tandem with naturally occurring hormone changes,” Martel explains. “ADHD is considered to be not only stable at one time point, but also to diagnose it you have to establish that it was present during childhood. And this really suggests that in young adult women this is maybe not the best way to think about it, which would have very far reaching implications not only for how we assess ADHD but potentially treat it.” Stabilizing hormone levels may be a better option to treat ADHD symptoms than drugs like Adderall or Ritalin. “We don’t know, but it’s something we need to explore,” she said.

A desire to help her community is what led Martel to research. “My mother passed away when I was six and I was raised by a single father. My Dad ended up enlisting a lot of help: my grandparents and neighbors. I feel like I couldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for all those people. And so, I’ve always really wanted to give back similarly to the community, because I felt like I benefited so much from that as a kid. So that pushed me into research projects in psychology as an undergraduate. I developed this interest in child neuropsychology, and that led me to Michigan State University where the person who became my mentor was, Joel Nigg. He just happened to study ADHD as one of the childhood disorders, so I began studying ADHD.”

For more on Michelle’s research, and the research experience of other BIRCWH program scholars, see the video: UK's Successful Research Career Development Program Receives Renewed Funding.