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Attention Deficit Disorder & Essential Fatty Acids

Intuitive parents have long suspected that in some children undesirable behaviour and poor school performance are linked to poor nutrition. New scientific studies of children with Attention Deficit Disorder are beginning to confirm these suspicions. One theory about ADD is that it is caused by a neurotransmitter imbalance. Children with ADD use hyperactivity and undesirable behaviour to stimulate production of neurotransmitters, but then they get overstressed and deplete themselves of neurotransmitters and are soon out of control. It seems, that a child with a tendency toward ADD needs a diet rich in nutrients that build neurotransmitters, given the difficulties he may have regulating their production. Research supports this idea, specifically:

  • A 1996 study of 96 boys found that those with lower blood levels of Omega-3 fatty acids were significantly more likely to have learning and behaviour problems than those whose levels were normal.
  • DHA and A.D.D. Another study showed that children with ADHD tended to have low blood levels of DHA and Arachidonic Acid (Essential Fatty Acids), two key brain fats. Perhaps this is why studies have shown that children who have been breast-fed are less likely to have ADHD and the longer the period of breastfeeding , the less the likelihood of having ADHD. The reason seems to be that breast milk is high in important fatty acids, such as GLA, ALA, DHA, Arachidonic Acid and others, but prior to 1997 most formulas contained none or little of these fatty acids. Studies at Purdue University in Indiana suggest that many boys with ADHD have low levels of the Omega Fatty Acids DHA, GLA and AA in their blood and tended to have lower levels of ALA and LA precursors in their blood than boys without ADHD, suggesting that these children were unable to make the fatty acids their brain needs from the fats in their diet.
  • The boys with ADHD who had the lowest levels of DHA, GLA and AA, exhibited the most anxiety, impulsivity, hyperactivity and conduct disorders. The researchers suggested three possible explanations for their findings: the children’s diets were deficient in Essential Fatty Acids, the children had a metabolic problem that prevented the body from converting dietary nutrients to Essential Fatty Acids for the brain, or various lifestyle and dietary factors reduced the level of Essential Fatty Acids available to the brain.
  • While a deficiency of Omega 3 fats can contribute to poor behaviour and learning, the ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet is also important. A study of fifteen children with motor coordination problems showed that motor skills improved after the children were given a diet rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fatty Acids. Brain researchers believe that the ideal ratio in the diet is 3:1, but a study found that children with ADHD had a higher Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio in their diet. When the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio gets too high, the important Omega 3 fats may be less available to the brain.
  • Some children with ADHD have outward symptoms of Essential Fatty Acid deficiency, such as excessive thirst, frequent urination, dry hair and dry skin. These symptoms appear because the vital organs, such as the brain, seem to have claim on the Essential Fatty Acids in the diet and rob these vital nutrients from less important organs, such as the skin.
  • The Hyperactive Children’s Support Group inEngland, after researching the connection between ADD and Essential Fatty Acid deficiency, concluded that since some children may have a problem with the normal metabolism of Essential Fatty Acids, they should supplement their diets with Essential Fatty Acids.
  • The group even suggested that perhaps males require two to three times more Essential Fatty Acids than females, since hyperactive male children seem to outnumber females by three to one.
  • In a study of DHA and behaviour, a group of college students were given a daily supplement of DHA beginning in August and continuing until final exams. Students who took DHA supplements displayed far less external aggression than those not taking supplements.
  • Sugars can also affect the learning and behaviour of children. Glucose tolerance tests on 261 hyperactive children showed that 74 percent had abnormal glucose tolerance tests, indicating that some children with ADHD are more prone to blood sugar swings and the poor behaviour and school performance that may accompany them. In one study, seventeen children with ADD were shown to have a lower rise in plasma epinephrine and nor-epinephrine in response to glucose infusion, another indication that these children may have more difficulty with blood-sugar changes.
  • Some research suggests that vitamin and mineral supplements may help children with A.D.H.D. Studies have shown that A.D.H.D., along with their lower serum levels of free fatty acids, may contribute to their A.D.H.D. Studies have shown that schoolchildren receiving a daily multivitamin containing the recommended dietary allowance of essential vitamins and minerals showed better school performance. However, studies using megavitamin therapy (doses of vitamins well above the RDA) on children with A.D.D. showed no effects; researchers concluded that this type of treatment should be discouraged because of potential toxic effects from excess amounts of some vitamins.
  • Other studies show that children placed on vitamin and mineral supplements tend to exhibit less violent, anti-social behaviour and show higher gains in academic performance than children on placebos. One study found that children who took 100 percent of the RDAs did better on I.Q. tests than those receiving 200 percent or 50 percent of the RDA. The conclusion was that taking more or less than the RDA may not be helpful.
  • Finally, nutritionists who reviewed studies linking diet, behaviour and school performance, concluded that students who generally ate a nutritious diet showed improved conduct and academic performance.

All the why’s and wherefores may not have been discovered yet, but common sense prevails.