This 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 earlier. Widespread deficiencies of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (obtainable in fish oil and a few other sources) as well as of Vitamin D3 (primarily manufactured by the body from sunlight) are found in today's populations. When I first wrote this section back in 2009 I put the Omega-3 issue first because it has interesting research support that I discuss in some detail in Fish Oil and Dyslexia. 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 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 during 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 compelling 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.
Could Dyslexia be Linked to a Vitamin D Deficiency?
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 many 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 following hypothesis.
Hypothesis: 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. 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. These delays in development are due to genetic tendencies that are triggered by a vitamin D deficiency. Another such trigger could be a deficiency in Omega-3's.
Making the Case that Vitamin D and Dyslexia are Linked
The next page, Vitamin D and Autism, will address the case first made by Dr. John Cannell in a 2007 paper in which he first hypothesized a link between a vitamin D deficit and autism. I found his argument convincing when I read it shortly after publication. Several studies done over the past several years now support his hypothesis.
The page following that, Vitamin D and Dyslexia, draws parallels between the symptoms of autism and the symptoms of dyslexia, parallels that suggest that dyslexia, too, could be influenced by the presence of a vitamin D deficiency.
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. The 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 directly from a dietary source.
And what happens when our bodies don’t get enough Omega-3's? 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 includes links to the complete study that are, unfortunately, behind a paywall. If you have access, you will find specific results that will be of interest if you are concerned about children who struggle to learn to read. First, though, the following two pages address the possibility that a vitamin D deficiency might be complicit in causing reading problems.