A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2016 | Number 1, Volume 30

ADHD drugs may harm children’s bones

Many individuals with autism take medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and a new study cautions that these drugs may impact bone health. 

In a sample of more than 5,300 pediatric patients, Jessica Rivera and colleagues compared those taking ADHD medications with those not taking the drugs. They found that children taking ADHD medications had lower bone mineral density in the femur, femoral neck, and lumbar spine. Approximately 25% of children on medication met criteria for osteopenia (lower than normal peak bone density), a number significantly higher than in the controls. 

The researchers note that these drugs can cause stomach upsets and appetite loss, possibly leading to a lower intake of calcium. In addition, they say, the drugs may affect bone density because they alter the sympathetic nervous system, which plays an important role in bone regeneration. 

Rivera and colleagues say that because most skeletal growth occurs by 18 to 20 years of age, doctors should consider nutritional counseling and other bone-protecting interventions for children taking ADHD medications.


“ADHD medications associated with diminished bone health in kids,” news release, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Rivera and colleagues presented their findings at the March 2016 annual meeting of AAOS.