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Live Q+A Session with Sarah Couchman: Diet and Dyslexia

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Diet and Dyslexia: What Works?

On top of assessments and tailored teaching, children with dyslexia and dyspraxia can benefit massively from the right nutrition. Essential fatty acids play a significant role in improving outcomes for the struggling learner.

Is there proof?

A study of 97 dyslexic children by Dr Alexandra Richardson and colleagues at Hammersmith Hospital in London revealed that essential fat deficiency clearly contributes to the severity of dyslexic problems. Those children with the worst essential fat deficiencies showed significantly poorer reading and lower general ability than the non-deficient children. [http://fp03-146.web.dircon.net/new_page_55.htm]

Recently the results of The Oxford-Durham Study were published showing that 3 months' supplemental fish oil capsules can help the reading, spelling, attention and concentration of children with dyspraxia to improve very significantly (Pediatrics 2005, 115(5): 1360-66).

To test the value of supplementing essential fats in dyspraxia, Dr Jacqueline Stordy of the University of Surrey in the UK gave essential fat supplements containing DHA, EPA, AA and DGLA to 15 children whose performance on standardized measures of motor and coordination skills placed them in the bottom 1 per cent of the population. After 12 weeks of supplementation, they all showed significant improvements in manual dexterity, ball skills, balance and parental ratings of their dyspraxic symptoms.

How can I tell?

If your child has some of the outward symptoms of essential fat deficiency - rough dry patches on the skin, cracked lips, dull or dry hair, soft or brittle nails, and excessive thirst - it is fair to say that this could be an underlying factor in learning difficulties they might be experiencing, such as concentration or visual problems, mood swings, disturbed sleep patterns and in some cases behavioral problems. This is because dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties and ADHD all involve poor nerve cell communications in the brain, and essential fats are crucial in keeping neurons talking to each other.

What about adults?

Such improvements don’t only apply to children however. There is much anecdotal evidence that EPA supplements can also help adults.

One charity, Natural Justice, which works with prison inmates, published a study showing that by adding fish oils, minerals and vitamins to the diets of young offenders their rates of offending and violence reduced by an amazing one third (British Journal of Psychiatry (2002) 181, 22-8).

Annie Shrier from the Dyslexia Research Trust has commented about the essential oils research: "we're really bursting to know if they can benefit adults as well. If so, this would represent a real breakthrough for all the adult dyslexics who have struggled through life, probably under-performing. They would no longer feel as though they had missed the boat as far as remedial measures are concerned".

Sarah Couchman ND Registered Naturopath (London College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences LCNM) has served Oxford’s community for over 15 years as a Complementary Health Practitioner. She specialises in dietary and structural complaints and originally trained in Osteopathic Medicine at Oxford Brookes University. Sarah continued her training in Classical Osteopathic Technique & Bio-mechanic Manipulation with one of the original forefathers of Osteopathic Medicine in the UK. Having completed further study in Naturopathic Medicine Sarah now sees clients with both joint and soft tissue problems as well as dietary issues.
  • Replied by adminSarahon Tuesday, September 10 2013, 06:00 AM·Hide·#1
    Hi Sarah - What a cool article! So, in your work, do you regular find that children who come to you for assessment have a deficiency in this area? How normal is it for kids to not get enough of these oils through the modern diet?
    I look forward to hearing from you - thanks!
  • Replied by taviavdon Tuesday, September 10 2013, 06:01 AM·Hide·#2
    Wow thank you Sarah this is something I never thaught about and will definalty be getting fish oil supplements for the whole family. Is worth a try.
    Have a great afternoon!
  • Replied by jjmuelleron Tuesday, September 10 2013, 06:21 AM·Hide·#3
    Thank you Sarah for the wonderful article. Do you have a suggestion on which supplements taste the best? I've tried them with our children and, well, :( I've tried a strawberry flavored soft gel that claims you can chew them - I guess that's good if you like strawberry flavored fish :D (Since the benefit is so great, I'm going to try and disguise it in strawberry flavored milk once a day.)

    What if your child is not showing any outward symptoms of essential fat deficiency? (the rough dry patches on the skin, cracked lips, dull or dry hair, soft or brittle nails, and excessive thirst) Could their deficiency be manifesting itself in concentration or visual problems, mood swings, disturbed sleep patterns and their behavior?

    What dosage is recommended for children?
  • Replied by sarahcouchmanon Tuesday, September 10 2013, 02:08 PM·Hide·#4
    It sounds like a good idea see what happens or you could try breaking a capsule into a main meal. Being mindful of not confusung young taste buds with sweet foods which should be sour, as this may keep them turned off to fish in future. Its too easy to disguise things with sweet flavourings food companies go to a lot of effort doing this forgetting most of us took cod liver oil and survived it . :)
    • sarahcouchman- more than a month ago
      I did not get the chance to answer the second part of your question relating to clinical signs. You have nothing to lose by having fish oil in the diet and seeing if this makes any difference, it could potentially be a number of things but I would see if this made any difference to the moods first. Hope that helps

  • Replied by orudominoon Friday, September 13 2013, 03:25 AM·Hide·#5
    In case there are other parents with a similar problem - I could not get our son to take Fish Oil because of the taste.. after much trial and error, I found the Morepa mini junior brand which has a strong dosage but doesn't taste too bad. I cut the capsules open and put them in his yoghurt, yakult or orange juice in the morning. He calls it his Brain Booster and he reminds me if ever I forget! I have definitely seen an improvement in him over the three months or so we have been using it.
    Replied by nutty1966on Tuesday, September 17 2013, 10:29 AM·Hide·#6
    Thanks for the great information. I have tried three or four different supplements both from the UK and from Switzerland where we currently live. Sadly, I'm unable to get the children to agree to take them... and they're very expensive so reluctant to keep trying different brands.

    I did some research and found that both flax and walnuts are high in Omega3. I've been a half tablespoon of flax in each tablespoon of peanut butter that they eat every few days and the children have agreed to eat six walnut halves a day. Am I at all making a dent in their requirements?

    Many thanks,

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