Ritalin in young children – may it actually improve their white matter?
A study was performed 2011-2015 on 48 boys
10–12-year-old, and 50 young adult men,
all with ADHD. None of them had taken Ritalin before this study. They were divided into 4 groups, where two groups got a placebo, and the others were given Ritalin for 16 weeks.
Before and one week after the 16-week study period, all the boys and adults had an MRI measuring different parts of their brains.
The young boys receiving Ritalin treatment had increases in white matter. Specifically, something called fractional anisotropy.
Note that this was age-related, and none of the young adult men had this change.
Fractional anisotropy is a way of measuring how well the connectivity is working in the brain and can be an indicator of executive function.
So what on earth does this mean?
Well, it means that it’s possible that taking Ritalin for 16 weeks, may actually helps a child’s brain to grow more connections and improve their executive function. This change is possibly permanent, as the actual structure of the brain was changed in these children. Note that this is not medical advice, and giving Ritalin to your child should only be done together with a medical professional.
My naturopathic view
Everyone knows that I am open to stimulants. They pinpoint a very specific function in the brain, which is very hard (if not impossible) to mimic with herbs and nutrients.
I get parents in clinic every day who are reluctant to put their children on medication, because of the potential long-term effects. However, this study is so exciting, because perhaps even after just 16 weeks, the drug may actually improve your child’s executive function. That’s possibly a real advantage.
As always, Ritalin and all other medications work better in a well-regulated body. So, when we work together with your child’s health in mind and provide them with the right diet, supplements and exercise, medication can be the last piece of the puzzle which helps them function better overall.
Clinical case studies
I have in my practice two parents who have previously reported continued improvements in their children’s executive functioning after taking them off Ritalin. Which makes me even more inclined to believe this is a promising research, which I hope they continue.
Bouziane C, Filatova OG, Schrantee A, Caan MWA, Vos FM, Reneman L. White Matter by Diffusion MRI Following Methylphenidate Treatment: A Randomized Control Trial in Males with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Radiology. 2019 Oct;293(1):186-192. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2019182528. Epub 2019 Aug 13. PMID: 31407970.
Grieve SM, Williams LM, Paul RH, Clark CR, Gordon E. Cognitive aging, executive function, and fractional anisotropy: a diffusion tensor MR imaging study. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2007 Feb;28(2):226-35. PMID: 17296985; PMCID: PMC7977408.