In a controversial paper, Dr. Sally Shaywitz and colleagues at the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity and the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company have authored a paper that examines the effect of the norephinephrine uptake inhibitor Atomoxetine (Strattera) on healthy children with Dyslexia (see below). The study looked at the effects of the drug on wide range of phonological and reading tests. Eli Lilly posted a press release in parallel (see below) that clarified that “Strattera is not approved to treat reading disorders.”
Analysis of the paper itself showed that 34% of the dyslexic students dropped out of the study and the most common side effects were: “nausea, fatigue, upper abdominal pain, decreased appetite, somnolence, and aggression.” Strattera also has a low but significant risk of very severe negative consequences such as suicidal ideation and fatal liver toxicity.
In the Yale study, a long list of phonological, orthographic, and reading tests that were administered to dyslexic students on placebo or Strattera, and only 3 out of 26 reached statistical significance (see below – the figure with bolded numbers) and those 3 subtests were not the most predictive of strong comprehension in adults. In fact, if you look at the results of health dyslexic students tested with Atomoxetine, the Placebo group (sugar pill) outperformed the students on Atomoxetine on the Passage Comprehension Test for Gray Oral Reading Test-4.
So medical professionals, parents, and students be wary when social media and the lay press begin to announce the results such as “Atomoxetine improves critical reading skills in children with dyslexia.” The trend differences in the data showing non-significant shifts in scores are likely due to the “cognitive enhancement” effects of these medications on healthy people, but minimal enhancement effects also have potential significant negative consequences.
For a good overview of the potential pitfalls of amphetamine and Strattera use in healthy adults to boost brain function, read the review below. Excerpt:
“Non-medical use of prescription stimulants such as MPH (methylphenidate) and illicit use of psychostimulants for cognitive enhancement have seen a recent rise among teens and young adults in schools and college campuses. However, this enhancement likely comes with a neuronal, as well as ethical, cost. Altering glutamate function via the use of psychostimulants may impair behavioral flexibility, leading to the development and/or potentiation of addictive behaviors. Furthermore, dopamine and norepinephrine do not display linear effects; instead, their modulation of cognitive and neuronal function maps on an inverted-U curve. Healthy individuals run the risk of pushing themselves beyond optimal levels into hyperdopaminergic and hypernoradrenergic states, thus vitiating the very behaviors they are striving to improve.”
This topic is a very deep one – we’ll continue the pros, cons, and further relevant research perspectives in our upcoming Premium Dyslexic Advantage magazine.