How Genetics and Essential Fatty Acids Come Together

My last post on essential fatty acids (EFA’s) explained how a deficiency in EFA’s can have huge impacts on coordination, eye function and the brain’s ability to focus and learn. Dr. Jacqueline Stordy concludes in her book, The LCP Solution what numerous studies and researchers have also found. Certain disorders like dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD are ‘inherited’ because certain individuals have a genetic predisposition to have difficulty converting EFA ‘s so they can be absorbed into the cell membrane and be effectively metabolized in the eyes and brain. This does not mean however—that this is irreversible. Dr. Stordy assures that she has had much success with supplementation of essential fatty acids which appears to circumvent the gene defects that put individuals at risk for dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

Is Your Child a Fast Oxidizer?

Certain individuals also inherit a predisposition to be fast oxidizers or may be fast oxidizers as a result of imbalances in the body. This means they more quickly utilize all sorts of nutrients like EFA’s and other nutrients needed for effective brain and body function. This is seen among children with ADHD who have lower levels of various nutrients such as EFA’s, zinc, B6 and magnesium, all of which are required for proper brain function. Knowing that EFA’s are essentially one of the building blocks for eye and brain health, it becomes quite clear why we often see so much overlap with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD.

Naturally, there are numerous factors apart from genetics that contribute to dyslexia including poor absorption of EFA’s even when sufficient amounts are part of the diet. Poor absorption can result for reasons mentioned in a previous article about nutrient deficiency and how it affects brain function.

Signs Your Child is Deficient in Essential Fatty Acids

Dr. Patrick Holford, says the most obvious way to know you are deficient in essential fatty acids is dry skin or eczema. Dr. Christine Absolon at the Royal London Hospital “found twice the rate of psychological disturbance in children with eczema compared with those without.” (224, Holford)

Other signs of EFA deficiency are:

  • Eczema, dry rough skin
  • Cracked lips
  • Brittle nails that break easily
  • Vision impairment (poor night vision, complaints of letters ‘moving’ or ‘blurring’, sensitivity to bright light, eye strain)
  • Difficulty focusing, focusing, learning and/or/or concentrating
  • Excessive thirst (which can be confused as constantly feeling hunger)
  • Frequent urination
  • Poor co-ordination and/or balance
  • Dry hair and dandruff
  • Allergies such as hay fever
  • Asthma, food allergies
  • Attention and concentration
  • Mood swings, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and emotional sensitivity

What Causes the Deficiency?

Essential fatty acid deficiency is often not the sole cause of brain disorders. Treating dyslexia, ADHD, dyspraxia or any disorder for that matter requires a holistic approach.

In another article I have written why children can become deficient in nutrients that can extend beyond poor diet. Our diet and food chain has also undergone profound changes in recent decades. This has had significant ramifications on our brain and body health due to a decline in the nutrient density of our food along with the fact that we have completely eliminated certain ‘staples’ from our diet which were significant sources of the very nutrients from which many of us are deficient today.

Fish – Deficiency in essential fatty acids has increased since the 1980’s as has the rate of childhood disorders. Families in general, in recent decades, have been eating less fish which has traditionally been a main source of essential fatty acids as well as a regular weekly to twice a week dietary staple. Throughout the winter, it was common practice to consume Cod Liver Oil, an obvious rich source of EFA’s as well as vitamin D which maintained both a healthy immune system and brain (an effective way to ward off the winter blues). To compound matters, farmed fish has significantly less EFA’s than the traditionally wild caught fish we once ate. Our modern diet and environmental footprint is leaving no small impact: you and your child’s brain may be suffering as a result.

Eggs and Chicken – Eggs and chicken meat was once another source of omega 3’s (EFA’s) when they were pasture-raised and fed off the insects and grubs they obtained from the local fields. This diet of insects and grubs was high in omega 3’s while the grain based feed today is high in omega 6’s.

Beef – Cows are also predominantly fed grains in modern farming which is an additional loss of beef being a source of omega 3’s. In the past, they were pasture-raised and fed mostly off grasses which created a higher omega 3 ratio. Today, both the meat and dairy is high in omega 6’s due to a grain based diet.

Bad Fats Deplete Good Fats

Unfortunately, increasing our intake of EFA’s is not necessarily enough to avoid deficiency. Trans fats, other bad fats (such as margarine) as well as processed foods depletes EFA’s and prevents them from being converted into useable fats in the brain and eyes. Dr. Stordy noted that childhood disorders increased rapidly starting in the 1950’s-1960’s around the same time that consumption of processed foods and bad fats like margarine and vegetable oils became ‘fashionable’. Naturally, the depletion of good fats from processed foods will become even more problematic among individuals who are at risk for having a genetic predisposition for dyslexia and ADHD.

Other factors that can deplete EFA’s are:

  • Stress (…and dyslexic and ADHD children are under a lot of pressure!)
  • Obesity
  • Diet high in saturated fats that is not balanced with unsaturated fats
  • Consumption of fried foods and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Hydrogenated vegetable oils is in margarine as well as nearly everything processed. These hydrogenated vegetable oils prevent the absorption and conversion of EFA’s. (Avoid cooking with olive oil and other vegetable oils. Stick with butter, coconut oil or animal fat as most vegetable oils become unstable under medium to high heat.)
  • Frequent antibiotic use

Eat more:

  • Oily fish like sardines, mackerel, wild Alaskan salmon, herring. Three servings a week is optimal.
  • Cod liver oil, flax seed oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Pasture-raised eggs (free range is not a guarantee as companies are allowed to use the term ‘free-range’ for chickens that are allowed to run around an industrial compound but are still fed grains)
  • Supplement with evening primrose oil and fish oils supplements that contain DHA

Supplementing

I have found that there is an over-supplementation in our increasingly health conscious society. Eating a variety of real, high quality food is the best ‘supplement’ available. Many individuals do not understand that supplements cannot compensate for a poor diet. As you already learned, toxic foods and chemicals deplete and block nutrients from being absorbed. We can consume all the supplements we want, but if our diet is still a mess filled with processed, fried foods than our supplements will be of little use. However, because some children require higher than normal amounts—and countless studies have shown amazing results in helping to treat brain disorders like dyslexia and ADHD—some supplements combined with a healthy diet can be especially beneficial.

Look for a high quality fish oil that has both high levels of DHA and EPA in the least amount of capsules. Check to see they have been distilled and that PCB’s and contaminants such as heavy metals have been removed. Avoid generic and value brands which often have toxins such as heavy metals—something your child’s brain does not need! Many people report the most success with supplementing fish oils for omega 3’s as well as evening primrose oil to obtain omega 6’s (as Dr. Stordy did in her study). Taking this with liquid vitamin E helps to ensure that fats are efficiently broken down and absorbed into the brain and other cells in the body.

References:

Optimum Nutrition for the Brain – Patrick Holford

Superimmunity for Kids: What to Feed Your Children to Keep Them Healthy Now, and Prevent Disease in Their Future by Leo Galland and Dian Dincin Buchman

The LCP Solution: The Remarkable Nutritional Treatment for ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia by B. Jacqueline Stordy Phd, Malcolm J. Nicholl

Cure Your Child with Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments  by Kelly Dorfman (Paperback)

Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders by Kenneth Bock, Cameron Stauth