By HAYLEY SIMS, Contributing Columnist and SUSAN CALLAHAN, Editor
The good news is that Ritalin is an effective solution to Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) for thousands of kids. The bad news is that, of the many children who take Ritalin to support their learning in school, some will suffer from side effects. With some simple natural remedies to keep your kids fit and healthy, you can ensure that your child gets the benefit of Ritalin, whilst not suffering the consequences.
What Are the Main Side Effects of Ritalin?
There is a risk of a range of side effects of taking Ritalin, and some are more common than others.
The more common risks include:
Less common side effects include:
All of these conditions can be potentially managed, of course it simply depends on the parent’s preference of whether the benefit of Ritalin outweighs managing the side effect.
But on the whole, there are ways to manage and keep your kids happy and healthy.
Ritalin Makes It Harder to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Trouble sleeping is one of the more common side effects of taking Ritalin, and luckily is one of the more easily solved problems.
A lot of parents report that simply spacing out the doses of Ritalin well and ensuring that the last dose is taken some hours before bed time should do it.
However, if the problem persists, there are a couple of things you can try including the age-old trick of giving your child a glass of warm milk before bed.
Milk contains the natural sedative tryptophan and often works wonders on busy ADHD minds.
Milk, particularly almond milk, is also a great source of calcium, which helps the brain produce melatonin – the hormone which regulates sleep cycle.
Try one type of milk or the other (or even a combination) and see what works well for your child.
You might also want to try some calming herbal remedies: a chamomile bath or some lavender drops on your child’s pillow are both reported to be soothing remedies that will calm your child and induce sleep.
How to Get Your Child Steady on Their Feet
The feeling of dizziness and light-headedness can crop up in children taking Ritalin on occasion. Depending on the severity of the condition, it can be treated usually with either some simple motor exercises or some balance therapy – or a combination of the two.
You should also make sure your child is drinking lots of liquids so that they stay well-hydrated at all times, as dehydration can cause a feeling of light-headedness.
If you wanted to try feeding something to your child as well (in case getting your child to commit to the physical practices proves difficult), quite a number of sources say that mustard is an excellent remedy as it improves blood circulation.
Try mixing salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar in equal parts, mixed with water. You might have to serve it with a spoonful of sugar afterwards to help it go down!
Keeping a Strong Stomach
Often it can be helpful to eat something before the dose of Ritalin is taken, to reduce the risk of nausea, stomach upset and even vomiting.
However, if your child is still complaining of a bad tummy then try ginger.
Ginger is often called the number one natural remedy for all things stomach related.
Ginger is a natural digestive and works also as a natural anti-emetic to prevent vomiting. In fact, one study even found ginger to be more effective than Dramamine in preventing motion sickness.
The easiest way to get children to get some ginger into their systems is to get them to suck on candied ginger like a sweet, or even as ginger ale (make sure to get rid of the carbonation as this can be a bit much for little tummies).
If ginger isn’t to their liking, peppermint is also great for stomachs as it can relax stomach muscles. It is easier to give to kids as it can be taken as capsules or as drops of oil.
Similarly, on the rare occasion, diarrhea can be a problem. In addition to keeping well hydrated, probiotics such as yoghurts can be helpful and keep good bacteria in the tummy to keep it strong and healthy.
Yoghurt is used throughout the world as an anti-diarrheal. For example, a 2006 study from Uromiyeh Medical Science University Faculty of Medicine, in Uromiyeh, Iran found that "Yogurt feeding is associated with a clinically relevant decrease in stool frequency ... and a 31% decrease in the median duration of diarrhea".
Elsewhere in the world, acupuncture, although probably not what you first think of, has also been found to provide great relief by some Chinese scientists.
Little Tummies, Big Appetites
For many kids, the common side effect of loss of appetite will improve after a few weeks of starting on the medication, but if it doesn’t then try these remedies whilst also monitoring weight etc.
Ginger can help for the same reasons as for treating an upset stomach, and more often than not, a simple re-jig of meal times and doses right after meals can rectify this problem.
Many sources urge parents to listen to children’s cravings more often than they normally would: if your child wants to eat a huge meal in the evening then let them, as long as they are consuming the appropriate amount of calories (it’s better than not getting any).
Also be sure to give them a nutritious breakfast to set them up well for the day. The main issue is making sure that kids get the right nutrients, so offering vitamins and even food supplement drinks made into appealing milkshakes or ice lollies can be a great solution.
Quite a simply kid-friendly option can be apple juice – it stimulates the production of gastric juices like pepsin which can encourage appetite.
What To Do if Ritalin Makes My Child Develop Tics?
Verbal tics are a rarer side effect of Ritalin. As many as 25% of children (usually more boys than girls) can suffer from tics at some point anyway. Tics can include eye-blinking, nose-twitching, head-jerking or shoulder-shrugging.
The most often prescribed remedy for tics is Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT), according to a 2015 study from UCLA's Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
On a day-to-day basis, stress, sleep deprivation and hunger can all worsen tics, so making sure you have a well-rested and fed child is the best port of call, as it is with most things!
For Those Blue Days…
A few children will show signs of worry, anxiety or even depression. Changes in mood could be due to any number of things but it is wise to know that it can be a side effect of Ritalin.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an effective therapeutic course for children in many cases. However, if Ritalin has driven your child to needing heavy-duty therapy, you may have reached teh point where the "remedy" is worse than the illness. That is to say, putting a child into therapy may not be feasible or worth the effects of Ritalin in the first place.