Controversial treatments for Down syndrome
Many treatments for Down syndrome have not been well-studied or proven to work. Some treatments may even cause physical harm or have ethical implications. Discuss the details of controversial treatments with your doctor before using them.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements. Studies have so far failed to show any significant physical or developmental benefits from the use of supplements, including antioxidants.
- Piracetam. This is a medicine that some people claim increases learning ability and improves memory. The results of a study using this medicine in children with Down syndrome showed that it did not enhance thinking, reasoning, or behavior.1 This medicine is not approved for any use in the United States.
- Cell therapy. In this procedure, a person is injected with freeze-dried cells from unborn animals. Advocates of cell therapy believe it improves the physical features of people with Down syndrome. But no studies have confirmed this claim, and some people have had severe reactions to the procedure. Cell therapy has never been legally available in the United States.
- Chiropractic therapy . Although chiropractic therapy is not considered a primary treatment for Down syndrome, it may benefit some people.
Treatments of questionable benefit
- Plastic surgery . Some people with Down syndrome need plastic surgery for medical reasons. More often, plastic surgery is done to change how a person's face looks. For example, surgery may be done to make the tongue smaller or to change the ears, nose, cheeks, chin, and eyes. These procedures have been done in Germany, Israel, and a few centers in the U.S. Studies have shown that in some cases plastic surgery has improved a person's appearance. But individual preferences and perceptions vary, and people other than family members often do not notice significant changes. And there are potential complications, such as infection or making existing respiratory problems worse.
- Human growth hormone. Some people advocate using growth hormones to help people with Down syndrome become taller than they would be naturally. Currently in the U.S., it is given only to children who don't produce enough of their own growth hormone. Most children with Down syndrome produce normal amounts of this hormone.
Treatments with ethical implications
- Surgical sterilization. A vasectomy (for men) or tubal ligation (for women) is sometimes done in people with Down syndrome to prevent them from conceiving a pregnancy. Often this is done because their parents are concerned about possible pregnancy. State laws vary in regard to sterilization of minors and people who have below-normal intelligence. Because sterilization does not prevent sexual abuse or sexually transmitted diseases, helping your teen learn how to recognize and react to sexual advances is of greater benefit. It is also important to teach your teen about birth control and sexual feelings.
Last Updated: August 4, 2009