News Story: Pediatric Ritalin may Affect Young Brains
When we give our children with ADHD Ritalin, we can see the changes in them. They may be able to sit still. They may be able to concentrate more and be less impulsive or hyperactive. The first day my son took Ritalin, the changes were visibly noticeable. He did not trip, he read a book, he sat through an entire family dinner without getting up or dropping things on the floor.
But how does this medication work? Scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City studied the developing brains of rats while on Ritalin. This study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
In the study, male rats were given Ritalin beginning at one week old and until they were 35 days old. This is equivalent to very early stages of brain development in humans. The amount of Ritalin given to the rats would be the same as the very high end of what a human child would be prescribed.
According to Dr. Teresa Milner, senior author of the study, they observed anatomical changes in the four sections of the brain. These sections include those parts of the brain associated with learning, memory, emotions, executive function, and stress. These changes slowly dissipated over time. Three months after the rats stopped receiving Ritalin, their brains had returned to a pre-medication state.
One surprising outcome of the study was in stress levels. The scientists noted that even after three months, the rats that had been given Ritalin were less anxious than non-treated rats in an "elevated-plus maze" and "open field" test.
Dr. Milner indicates that doctors should use caution and be sure of a diagnosis of ADHD before beginning a medication treatment plan. According to Dr. Milner, "In ADHD-affected brains-where the neurochemistry is already somewhat awry or the brain might be developing too fast - these changes might help ‘reset' that balance in a healthy way. On the other hand, in brains without ADHD, Ritalin might have a more negative effect. We just don't know yet."
July 23, 2007