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ADHD Medication Can Stunt Growth

Whenever we talk about the common and often deadly side effects of stimulant medications for ADHD, the first things we usually think of are cardiovascular risks, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and moodiness.  However, studies show that there is another important and often overlooked side effect of ADHD medications – stunted physical growth.  Although researchers do not know the exact mechanism by which medications affect growth, a review of current studies shows a growth deficit of around 1 cm per year of taking stimulant medications.  Children on ADHD medications also have lower weight than their peers, but this can be attributed to appetite loss and can be easily remedied through diet.

The MTA Study, the longest-running study on children with ADHD, provides a clear picture of the long-term results of ADHD medication.  After three years of following the participants, the researchers observed that children who took Ritalin and other stimulant medication were at least one inch shorter and six pounds lighter than those who did not take the drugs.  It seems the impaired growth has only short-term effects; the researchers noted that those who took medications eventually reached their normal height.

One other interesting observation made by the study is that the effects of the drugs on behavior seemed to be significant after 14 months.  By the 24th month, however, the benefits seemed to be reduced slightly.  After 36 months of medication, the advantage of ADHD medication over natural treatments seemed to disappear. In other words, stimulant ADHD medication loses its ability to control the symptoms with long-term use. Interestingly enough, the three-year mark is also when children on medications start to "catch up" with their peers, in terms of height.

There is no arguing that ADHD medications do work for some children, but there are also reasons to think twice before giving these drugs to your children.  Although not everyone seems to experience the same debilitating side effects, stimulant medications are definitely not the answer for children who only seem to get worse after long-term use. Fortunately, there are a number of natural treatment options for ADHD that work just as effectively as medication. Although treating ADHD naturally will involve more effort than swallowing a pill, this approach will not place your child at risk for stunted growth and other harmful outcomes.