Ritalin May Help Improve Symptoms After Iron Deficiency Anemia

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Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in children. When children are deprived of iron, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy or the first six months of life, brain damage can occur that leads to impaired motor function and hyperactivity disorder. Researchers from Pennsylvania State University have found that, at least in animal studies, Ritalin can help improve focus in those that were iron-deficient.

Ritalin May Improve Focus and Attention in Iron Deficient Children

Byron C. Jones, a professor of biobehavioral health, and his team of researchers tested low doses of Ritalin (methylphenidate), a medication used to control symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in laboratory rats. Half of the rats were made to be iron deficient beginning four days after birth, mimicking a human infant deprived of iron during the critical period of brain development. Once weaned, the rats were put on iron-sufficient diets.

Read: ADHD and Iron Deficiency

At 45 days, when the rats reached adolescence, the researchers tested their ability to remember, respond, sustain attention and then shift attention. The rats were then divided into four separate groups, with control and iron-deficient rats in each. Three groups were given varying doses of Ritalin and one group served as a control, given no medication. The rats were retested after 15 days.

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The researchers found that low doses of Ritalin can help improve the focus of iron-deficient rats. Higher doses proved to be harmful rather than helpful, making the animals more hyperactive. The control rats that were not iron deficient showed neither positive nor negative changes in performance with Ritalin.

Ritalin works by regulating brain levels of dopamine, which is important in controlling many functions including the ability to sustain attention. Iron deficiency affects dopamine systems as it is a co-factor for tyrosine. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) is an enzyme that regulates the production of dopamine.

Read: Study Suggests Exclusive Breastfeeding Leads to Infant Health Problems

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, iron deficiency is in the top 10 causes of global disease and affects more than 2 billion children. Causes include insufficient iron in the diet or poor absorption of iron by the body, such as in the case of lead poisoning. Ongoing blood loss and periods of rapid growth can also contribute to a deficiency of the mineral.

Because these are the first experiments with Ritalin and iron deficiency, the Penn State team plans to conduct further research.

Journal Source:
Behavioural Brain Research

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