Nutritional deficiencies are often overlooked when addressing the causes and treatment of childhood disorders like dyslexia, ADHD and other brain disorders. The idea that certain key vitamins, minerals or fats could wreak such havoc on your child may seem preposterous. Yet extensive research over the last several decades has revealed irrefutable research that certain nutrients are crucial for brain function. They have an essential role in the brain’s ability to decode letters, to memorize as well as with self-regulation and impulse control.

How Nutrient Deficiency Affects Your Child’s Brain

These nutrients can directly or indirectly be one of the contributing factors in the development of childhood disorders. Nutrient deficiency can affect your child’s ability to learn, concentrate and their vision–even with a 20/20 vision score. It can affect their behavior in terms of how they are able to cope with change, their tolerance to irritations and frustration as well as their sleep quality.

Your child’s quality of sleep has a profound effect on their brain’s ability to learn, develop and remain focused and calm. I know that as a mother, you know exactly what lack of sleep does to your child: cranky, overemotional, silly, hyper. You also know what lack of sleep does to you–the adult version of the aforementioned: anxious, depressed, silly, irritable. The sleep hormone melatonin cannot be manufactured without the precursor nutrients required for its production. Sleep is for the brain as much as it is for the body.

Nutrient Deficiency Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Mom

An often hard pill to swallow for you as a parent is that your child might be nutrient deficient. As a parent you do the best you can to make sure your child eats vegetables, tries new foods and takes their vitamins. Allow me to put any guilt to rest. Three children can be eating the same diet and only one of them may be nutrient deficient.

Factors that can lead to nutrient deficiency are: 

  • Fast-Metabolizer or oxidizer – Your child may burn key nutrients for brain and body function faster than other children. This is very common among ADHD children.
  • Genetic Predispositions – The research of Dr. Jacqueline Stordy determined that children with dyslexia and dyspraxia had a genetic predisposition to ineffectively metabolize essential fatty acids which are nutrients that play a critical role in learning and vision.
  • Leaky Gut and Poor Digestion – Poor digestion is often one of the main reasons why the body is unable to absorb vitamins, minerals and amino acids, no matter how many nutrients are ingested.
  • Undiagnosed Food Allergies – Food allergies place added stress on the body. The body uses up key nutrients in order to cope with the inflammation and stress on the body that would otherwise be going to the brain and body for ‘normal’ function and maintenance.
  • Poor Soil Quality – The vegetables, fruits and even meat our grand-parents ate were much more dense in nutrients compared to today’s food. Soil depletion is a concern around the world due to modern farming practices as well as deforestation. A plant can only have as many nutrients as the soil in which it grows. Top that with the fact that much of our fresh produce is in storage for up to a year and you can see how easy it is to be deficient in certain nutrients even while eating a healthy diet.
  • Stress – Childhood trauma of any sort places added stress on the body and causes the body to use up additional nutrients. Bullying, struggling in school, a recent divorce, generalized anxiety and other stressors can all contribute to nutrient deficiency in both children and adults.
  • Fussy Eater – The less variety of food in a child’s diet–the more prone he or she will be to nutrient deficiencies. Many children’s taste buds and diets are limited today to sweets, dairy and high grain foods like cheese, yoghurt, breads, crackers and cookies. More about this phenomenon grain-dairy addiction phenomenon in another post. 
  • Sugar and Other Anti-Nutrients – The body uses a large amount of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients to simply be able to process and metabolize anti-nutrients like sugar and other chemicals and additives.

Calorie Full Does NOT Mean Nutrient Dense

One of the reasons that nutrient deficiency is often dismissed as a treatment factor when your child is struggling with a cognitive disorder is that, as Westerners, when you hear the word deficiency you likely default to the image of impoverished children in war-torn and famine struck countries. You might assume that most starving children are emaciated, small for their age, anemic and sickly.

Starvation and nutritional deficiencies has many faces, and the most insidious is the ones in Western culture; it masks itself in average to overweight children. Starvation is too often thought of as being calorie deficit, instead of nutrient deficit: fats, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients all play a role.

Below are symptoms that could indicate potential nutrient deficiencies in your child or even yourself.

We all have different body types, different needs and requirements and even those factors are under constant fluctuation. You could have three children who all eat the same healthy meals and snacks and one of them could be seriously to moderately deficient in one or more key nutrients for brain function. A healthy body weight does not guarantee that one is safe from nutritional deficiencies.

References:

Optimum Nutrition for the Brain – Patrick Holford

Brain Allergies: The Psychonutrient and Magnetic Connections by Willam Philpott, Dwight Kalita

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