The Diet Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle

Vitamin D3 and Omega-3 essential fatty acids could both be key nutrientsThis section, The Diet Piece of the Dyslexia Puzzle, addresses two nutrients which are quite likely to be deficient in today's children compared to children who born prior to the 1980's or so. Widespread deficiencies of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (obtainable in fish oil and a few other sources) as well as of Vitamin D3 (manufactured by the body from sunlight) are found in today's populations. At the time I first wrote this section I put the Omega-3 issue first because it has interesting research support that I discuss in some detail. I considered the Vitamin D3 issue to also be interesting, but claimed that it was "entirely theoretical at this point, though I wonder if it might turn out to be quite important."

A Vitamin D Deficiency Is Being Associated with Many Diseases

Well, it's still theoretical, but a lot has been happening in the world of vitamin D since I wrote those words. I now feel no parent can afford to ignore the probable importance of ensuring that vitamin D3 levels are maintained at adequate levels in your children, in adult family members and particularly duringRecent research suggests that the effects of vitamin D3 on overall general health are huge pregnancy. Here's the point I want to emphasize: Even if maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D3 have no impact on dyslexia, the other health benefits suggested by recent research are becoming so enormous, yes enormous, that a parent would be foolish to let any family member become deficient. Frankly, the drug companies would kill to get the sort of results that researchers are finding as they investigate the associations of a vitamin D deficiency with disease after disease.

Here, though, we are primarily concerned with reading problems and with dyslexia, and although the vitamin D research has now associated a vitamin D deficiency with a multitude of particular diseases, I've seen nothing in the research associating it with dyslexia. That doesn't mean such research isn't out there somewhere; I just haven't found a study that I can cite in support of the hypothesis I'm going to lay out here.

The Hypothesis: A vitamin D deficiency is the "trigger" that activates a genetic tendency Here's my hypothesis: I have long felt that ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger's and autism are all associated conditions that have in common a failure of a child to develop normal childhood skills on schedule and that what distinguishes them is the severity of the deficit in development, with the ADHD child eventually developing into a more or less normal adult while the autistic child might never develop the skills needed to be considered a fully functioning adult. Dyslexia and Asperger's fall between those two extremes. And I now suspect that these delays in development have a specific cause or causes, and that one of those causes is a vitamin D deficiency. Another might well be a deficiency in Omega-3's.

Consider the historical record. Most people who were in school in the 50's and 60's have a hard time remembering more than a classmate or two who had trouble learning to read, and back then typical classrooms had 30 or more students in them. Today in many schools teachers are running into 10 to 15% of their students who are encountering reading difficulty. (To be honest, I've never been all that impressed with this argument, as it relies too much on perceptions of situations in our childhood, but many people feel quite strongly that it's an accurate depiction of what has happened.)

Less controversial is the explosion of the autistic population. Here, too, I felt for a long time that we were just diagnosing it more accurately, or assigning a new name to a condition doctors had seen for decades,In 1989 we were warned to avoid direct sunlight; today we have an autism epidemic. Coincidence? Or Cause? but I've had to acknowledge the obvious. Schools today are rapidly being forced to accommodate mounting numbers of autistic children, and school administrators will confirm that fact. Autism is, inexplicably, rising at epidemic rates among our children. Asperger's, too, is becoming increasingly common.

As will be shown when we get to the vitamin D discussion, the rise in the incidence of autism corresponds closely with the advice to avoid sun exposure, advice first actively promulgated by the medical community in 1989. Today's mothers are likely to be considered negligent by many if they allow their children into direct sunlight without first lathering them up with sunscreen, and that sunscreen is extremely effective at stopping the body's production of vitamin D3.

It's not clear at all that dyslexia is undergoing the same epidemic-like rate of growth and dyslexia has been a concern for more that just the last 20 years, so I want to emphasize that the link between dyslexia and a vitamin D deficiency is only hypothetical. However, the link to autism could eventually be supported by future research and if I'm correct about dyslexia and autism both being part of a spectrum of conditions characterized by delayed, or abnormal, child development, then ensuring that your child is not vitamin D deficient could pay huge dividends.

And, even if the link to autism is found to be non-existent, or if my hypothetical linking of dyslexia and autism is incorrect, virtually everyone should be paying attention to their vitamin D3 levels given all that has been learned recently.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids Might Also Influence Dyslexia

Our modern-day diet is highly deficient in Omega-3 essential fatty acids. Here are just a few examples of the way Omega-3’s have been reduced in our diets and replaced by Omega-6 essential fatty acids:

1. Chickens used to wander the farm eating a lot of insects. Now they are grain-fed almost exclusively. Their insect-laden diet was rich in Omega-3’s, whereas grain contains predominantly Omega-6’s. Both the eggs and the meat of the chicken used to be good sources of Omega-3’s, but are not anymore.

2. Similarly, both beef cattle and dairy cows used to pasture much more than they now do. Beef is now fed various grains in feedlots and the average dairy cow spends all day in either the barn or a feedlot. TheOmega-3's have disappeared from modern diets. But does that matter? grasses they used to eat were a source of Omega-3’s, now replaced by the Omega-6’s prevalent in grains. Again, both the meat and the milk ceased being good sources of Omega-3’s in our diets.

3. Even salmon, an excellent source of Omega-3’s (though care should be taken to avoid heavy metal concentrations) is now often farm-raised in ponds. Their diet in the wild is filled with elements of the food chain heavy in Omega-3’s. But in the ponds? You guessed it; more grains.

4. Fruits and leafy green vegetables are less efficient sources, but still sources, of Omega-3’s but the average person’s diet today has far less of these. Instead, we fill up on chips, crackers and breads made from grain.

Summing up, if Omega-3’s are important, it’s safe to say we get far less of that particular essential fatty acid in our diets than in earlier days.

So We Don't Get Omega-3 EFA's Anymore, So What?

They're called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) because they’re essential dietary elements. Our bodies need these particular fatty acids for sources of other compounds that go into building our brains, our visual systems, our nervous systems, etc. Essential fatty acids can’t be created by chemical processes within our bodies. They have to come from a direct dietary source.

And what happens when our bodies don’t get enough Omega-3 sources? Our bodies use Omega-6’s instead, of which there is no shortage given the massive grain-based diets most of modern-day man is on. But what’s the relevance to the dyslexia puzzle? Well, it turns out that an excellent study (double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled) published in 2005 provides some interesting evidence that Omega-3 supplementation could make a difference to a dyslexic child, though not in every case.

Fish Oil and Dyslexia covers that study in some depth and provides links to the complete study, as well as to specific results that you will find interesting if you have a child struggling to learn to read. First, though, consider the possibility that a vitamin D3 deficiency might be complicit in causing a reading problem.