ADHD Meds Tied to Lower Bone Density in Kids
One-quarter of children in study had lower-than-normal readings, but reasons aren't clear
By Amy Norton
THURSDAY, March 3, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Children on medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have lower bone density than their peers, a new U.S. study suggests.
Using data from a government health survey, researchers found that children taking ADHD medications had, on average, lower bone density in the hip and lumbar spine (lower back) than kids not on the drugs.
These prescription medications included stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, and nonstimulants, like Strattera.
Experts said it's not clear that the medications themselves actually thin kids' bones, as the study only showed an association, and there could be other explanations for the connection.
"I'm in no way saying that kids shouldn't be on these medications," said Dr. Jessica Rivera, the senior researcher on the study and an orthopedic surgeon with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Studies like this don't give answers -- they raise questions for further research, said Rivera, who was scheduled to present the findings Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, in Orlando, Fla. In general, data and conclusions presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
In theory, there are reasons that ADHD medications could affect kids' bone density, Rivera said. One way is through diet, she explained, since the drugs can cause stomach upset and dampen a child's appetite.
It's also possible that ADHD drugs directly affect bone density, because they act on the sympathetic nervous system, Rivera pointed out.
But for now, that is speculation.
"This is an early study," Rivera stressed, "and it's not something that should change practice." She would not recommend, for instance, that children on ADHD medications routinely have bone scans.
Dr. Eric Hollander, a child psychiatrist who was not involved in the study, agreed.
"The researchers can't attribute the difference in bone mineral density to the medications, specifically," said Hollander, who directs the autism and obsessive-compulsive spectrum program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "I would not suggest routine screening of children's bone mineral density based on this."