February 2, 1998
By Rebecca Wigod of the Vancouver Sun
Nutritional supplement is said to help kids with dyslexia, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and 'clumsy-child syndrome.' A simpler answer is to serve lots of tuna fish.
A fatty-acid deficiency may be to blame for the trouble some children have with reading, learning, concentrating or playing sports, a British nutrition researcher says.
Dr. Jacqueline Stordy believes taking a supplement of two essential fatty acids will improve the lives of many children with dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyspraxia ( "clumsy-child syndrome").
At the start of a B.C. lecture tour, she said: "We have had individuals, both adults and children, who have come off stimulant medication [e.g., Ritalin, taken for ADHD] as a result of fatty-acid supplementation. "
But she warned that taking supplements is "a help, not a magic cure. "
Stordy, who holds a PhD, was a senior nutrition lecturer at England's University of Surrey, where she managed the largest undergraduate nutrition program in Europe before she retired.
She spent much of her career studying DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid) -- two so-called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids that play a major role in eye and brain activity. She describes them as "the building blocks of nerve cell membranes. "
She said people can get long-chain fatty acids from food.
"You can get DHA in the flesh of fatty fish -- things like tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon. You get arachidonic acid in meat and eggs. "
Stordy is particularly interested in the causes of dyslexia because the reading disability runs in her family. When her dyslexic son James, now 13, was younger, she fed him tuna to improve his school performance.
"I gave him tunafish Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and he improved tremendously, " she said, chuckling at the memory.
But while long-chain fatty acids can be obtained through diet, they are more commonly made by the body after foods containing linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are eaten.
Research by Stordy and others points to the fact that children with learning, coordination and behaviour disorders may have problems in their fatty acid metabolism -- in other words, their bodies may not be converting LA and ALA into long-chain fatty acids.
Stordy has joined a company called Efamol Ltd., which has developed a supplement based on her findings. This product, a "nutriceutical " called Efalex Focus, supplies essential fatty acids through a combination of evening primrose oil, tuna oil, thyme oil and Vitamin E. It sells for $ 25 to $ 30 a bottle in pharmacies and health food stores.
She said her son is now taking it and that "it has helped him enormously. " People who have tried it in the United Kingdom and Australia have found it helpful, she said, and have spread the word through the Internet.
Vancouver family doctor Gabor Mate, a former Sun medical columnist, has attention deficit disorder and is writing a book about it.
Asked for his views of Stordy's nutritional approach, he said nutrition plays a role in the condition, but not a major or causative role. A number of nutritional approaches to ADHD have been suggested, he said, but none has yet had its validity confirmed by studies.
He pointed out that children with ADHD are extra-sensitive -- many also have allergies or asthma -- so it makes sense for parents to pay close attention to their diets.
Mate doesn't know specifically about long-chain fatty acids and their role in ADHD. However, he noted that if parents buy a dietary supplement for their child, that would indicate they have ceased to blame the child for his or her impulsive, hyperactive behaviour and are paying him more attention.
Then, if the child's behaviour improves, he said, it would be hard to isolate whether the fatty acids did the trick or simply the parents' change in attitude.