By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 30 March 2012)
There hasn’t been much research conducted on the use of the glutamate agent piracetam as an autism treatment, though it has been used to treat a variety of other conditions ranging from behaviour disorders in children to senile dementia in the elderly.
The Use of Piracetam as a Complementary Therapy for Autism
Akhondzadeh et al. (2008) found that a combination of piracetam and risperidone had beneficial effects in reducing problem behaviours in autistic children. The study included two groups: a resperidone + piracetam group and a control group who received respiridone + a placebo. The researchers found that the piracetam group achieved a significantly greater reduction in aberrant behaviours, and concluded that piracetam may have synergistic effects with medications such as respiradone.
According to Dorfman (2009), cofounder of Developmental Delay Resources, possible reasons for piracetam’s benefits, particularly for motor coordination deficits, include:
- Influencing glutamate transmission, which can have beneficial effects on motor functioning (coordination and movement)
- Enhancing blood flow to and oxygen uptake of the brain via activation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (which plays a key role in memory, organization, and motor planning)
- Promoting the transfer of information between brain hemispheres, which is necessary for motor coordination
Having used piracetam for more than 15 years, Dorfman has concluded that although it may reduce clumsiness, it’s not likely to increase the sociability of autistic children. However, it may improve social communication by reducing pragmatic language deficits. She also warns that although side effects are uncommon, some children may become anxious or irritable with supplementation.
Olga Bogdashina, President of the Autism Society of Ukraine, notes that piracetam is widely used as an autism treatment in the Ukraine. Having conducted her own small-scale study, she found that piracetam improved the attention spans and mental capabilities in the majority of participating children. She also says that her autistic son became more sociable and flexible and less aggressive on the supplement. She does warn that during the initial phase of treatment, hyperactivity and tantrums may increase. However, researcher Stephen Fowkes notes that these side effects are only common with high doses, and asserts that they are rare with standard doses (both cited in “Letters to the Editor, Autism Research Review International, 1996).
Other Autism Supplements
For more on the effectiveness of other supplements for treating autistic spectrum disorders, see the main Autism Supplements page. For a full list of articles on autism and Asperger’s syndrome, visit the main Autistic Spectrum Disorders page.
Always consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking supplements or giving them to your child. Many supplements are toxic at certain doses and may interact with some medications or create problems for people with certain medical conditions.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a doctor.
- Akhondzadeh, S.; Tajdar, H.; Mohammadi, M.R.; Mohammadi, M.; Nouroozinejad, G.H.; Shabstari, O.L.; & Ghelichnia, H.A. (2008). “A Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Trial of Piracetam Added to Risperidone in Patients with Autistic Disorder.” Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 39(3), pp. 237-245.
- Dorfman, K. (23 February 2009). “Piracetam: A Powerful Tool for Learning Disabilities and Dyspraxia.” DevDelay.org.
- “Letters to the Editor.” (1996). Autism Research Review International, 10(2), p. 7.
- Rossignol, D.A., MD, FAAFP. (2009). “Novel and Emerging Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review.” American Academy of Clinical Psychiatrists, AACP.com.