According to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability – that’s the equivalent of one child in every school bus full of children! There exists various forms of learning disorders and behavioral problems such as ADD/ADHD (inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity), dyslexia (difficulty learning to read and write) and dyspraxia (trouble with coordination), which have various degrees of severity and overlap. Here are some key risk factors and suggestions for learning disability support.
Deficiencies or imbalances of certain essential fatty acids may contribute to a range of development disorders. This is of concern because the body cannot produce them on its own and it appears that the majority of children are not getting enough in their diets!
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) are highly concentrated in the brain, and are important for neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to re-organize itself by forming new connection throughout life). EFA’s are a component of every cell wall in the body and are made up of various metabolites. Omega 3 provides EPA & DHA while Omega 6 provides GLA, which is used in the body to make AA. The most important structural omega fatty acids in the brain are DHA (as much as 60%) and AA. EPA and GLA have anti-inflammatory properties and support proper brain cell activity. Studies on infants show the supply of essential fatty acids in early life is critical for good brain and visual development.
EFA supplementation has been shown to:
- Improve behavioral, emotional and cognitive symptoms.
- Reduce anxiety, hyperactivity, restlessness, impulsivity, aggression, irritability, inattention and oppositional defiant behavior.
- Improve balance, coordination, motor skills in dyspraxia and reading ability in dyslexia.
Research has shown that children with learning disorders may not be able to adequately convert dietary EFA’s into their beneficial metabolite forms. Consider supplemental sources that directly provide concentrated amounts of EPA/DHA & GLA such as Omega 3 fish oils and Omega 6 evening primrose or borage oils. Also, avoid dietary trans fats, which take up space on cells; reducing oxygen and nutrient supply, creating toxic build-up and preventing proper signalling!
Impaired digestion, poor gut bacteria, candida overgrowth and stress are main culprits of leaky gut. This is by far the most common gastro-intestinal disorder among those with learning disorders. Leaky gut allows the passage of undigested food proteins, microbes and toxins into the blood stream, which can provoke an inflammatory immune response and cause food sensitivities and allergies. This can contribute to mental, emotional and learning problems. In addition to avoiding food sensitivities (i.e. wheat and dairy) and additives (MSG, preservatives, and artificial colors), consider the following:
- L-Glutamine Powder: Helps repair digestive tract lining and reduce inflammation.
- Probiotics: Protects intestinal lining, improves immune and digestive function.
- Fibre: Supports healthy bacteria levels and bowel elimination, reducing toxicity.
- Vitamin D3: Helps heal leaky gut, decrease inflammation and support immunity.
- Enzymes: Break down food to improve digestion and reduce risk of sensitivities.
Iron deficiency can cause a wide range of behavioral abnormalities and is a contributing factor to ADHD in certain children. In addition, children with suboptimal levels of magnesium and zinc may demonstrate improvements when given supplementation. Lastly, B-vitamins are essential for energy production and vital for brain performance as the brain consumes roughly 20% of the body’s energy. Look to correct deficiencies and consider a multivitamin/mineral!
Brain Cell Defenders
Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable atoms that destroy cells. They come from toxins in our food, environment and products (i.e. heavy metals, pesticides). Increased exposure has been linked to reduced concentration, attention, poor learning and behavioral problems. They also come from electromagnetic frequencies, which are invisible, physical energy produced by electrically charged objects (i.e. cell phones). Children’s brains can absorb twice as much cell radiation as an adult’s and using a cell for 2 minutes can disrupt a child’s brain function for up to 1 hour after exposure ends!
In addition to avoiding these triggers, consider antioxidant nutrients to help protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals (oxidation). These include Vitamins C & E!
The brain depends on a constant supply of glucose to meet its energy needs. However, a diet high in refined ingredients causes rapid fluctuations in blood sugars, resulting in mental symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, confusion, and difficulty concentrating. In order to manage levels throughout the day, never skip meals (especially breakfast) and choose complete, balanced meals that contain plenty of protein, fibre and healthy fats. Also, protein provides the amino acids needed to make neurotransmitters, the brain’s messengers. Did You Know? Inadequate protein early in life can lead to a permanent reduction in brain size!
BONUS: Mental Calmness
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves that helps reduce stress, calm the nerves, improve mood and help with learning performance, memory and concentration in school age children.
Another option to consider are homeopathic remedies to help calm irritability, nervous tension and anxiety. These formulas are incredibly safe for all ages.
In addition to the above suggestions, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, manage stress and maintain healthy thyroid levels!
-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -