The LCP Solution and Essential Fatty Acids
There is some evidence that a nutritional or dietary deficiency of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) or Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) may play a part in attention deficits or learning disabilities. This evidence has in turn led to various nutritional supplements containing these essential nutrients being promoted heavily as a potential cure for dyslexia or ADHD.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle: Evidence is still mixed as to whether these supplements are likely to provide significant help to your child, but it is true that your child's overall nutrition and health will benefit if you ensure that his diet provides an adequate source of these important nutrients.
What is the value of Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening Primrose Oil is an ingredient of Efalex, and is a source of omega-6 fatty acids. Although these are also important to your child's health, there are many other sources of omega-6 fats in your child's diet, such as vegetable oils commonly used in salad dressing or mayonnaise, and it is less likely that he needs extra supplementation.
In order to understand which nutrients your child needs and what supplements may be best, it helps to know what all the abbreviations for various chemical names mean. Here is a list of the most important:
EFA: Essential fatty acids (fats which cannot be manufactured by the body and must come from the diet).
LCP: Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (necessary nutrients that are described by their chemical composition).
LA: Linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid found in many vegetable oils).
ALA: Alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid found in vegetable oils and dark-green leafy vegetables).
DHA: Docosahexaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid needed for brain function, found in oily fish).
EPA: Eicosapentaenoic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid needed for cardiovascular function, found in oily fish).
LCPs are the “good fats” that your child needs to help growth and learning. These are needed for visual functioning in the retina of the eye, in the synapses of the brain, in nerve tissues, and in the adrenals for regulating stress. They are called “long chain” polyunsaturated fatty acids because they are made up of molecules that consist of chains of twenty or more carbon atoms. ALA, DHA and EPA are three types of LCPs needed by the body, but only ALA is deemed “essential,” because the body can produce DHA and EPA on its own.
Increasing ALA in the Diet
The two essential fatty acids are ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and LA (linoleic acid). ALA falls into a group of fatty acids known as omega-3s. The typical American diet is deficient in omega-3s, so it is very likely that your child is not getting enough of this important nutrient in his diet. There is some evidence that children with dyslexia or ADHD may be more likely to have low levels of EFAs, even if their diets are adequate. It is possible that this is an effect, rather than a cause, of their symptoms; children who are unusually active or under a lot of stress may simply “burn through” fats and other important nutrients at a higher than average rate.
An Oxford University researcher conducted a trial with 41 children with reading problems. Half were given fish oil supplements, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and the other half were given a placebo containing olive oil. After six months, the children receiving the fish oil supplements were able to concentrate better and had reduced anxiety levels.
Even if it is not connected to her dyslexia, ALA's are connected to your child's health in a number of ways. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by feeding your child a diet rich in EFAs. Some of the benefits of adding ALA to the diet are smoother skin, higher energy levels, stamina, performance and recovery, better insulin sensitivity, lowered inflammation, improved mood, and better ability to handle stress.
The best source of ALA is flax or flaxseed oil. It is also found in smaller quantities in walnuts, cold-pressed canola oil, wheat germ, and dark-green leafy vegetables.
Although fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, some types of fish have dangerously high levels of mercury and should not be fed to your child. It is safe to give your child canned light tuna, but avoid white (albacore) tuna or fresh tuna. Do not feed your child shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, as these fish all have very high levels of mercury. As a rule of thumb, choose smaller fish that are low on the food chain.
ALA is not only an essential nutrient by itself, but it is vital to the production of the two LCPs, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA is crucial to brain function; the brain is about 60 percent fat by weight, and DHA is the most abundant fat. The fat in the brain is contained in cell membranes of neurons and in the protective myelin sheath that covers them.
The highest concentration of DHA is in the forebrain, the brain area used for concentration and higher-order thinking. DHA is also needed by the rods in the retina of the eye for normal ability to adapt to see in the dark and to adapt to bright lights. A deficiency in these fats can impair the ability of the brain cells to communicate and may affect overall brain development.
Although your child's body can manufacture DHA on its own, it requires an abundant supply of ALA as well as other nutrients, vitamins C, B6, B3, zinc, and magnesium. DHA can also be obtained through the diet; the best source is oily cold-water fish like salmon, trout, sardines, herring, tuna, and eel.
Because of the clear benefits of adding EFAs to the diet, supplements are readily available. As noted above, the most readily available and inexpensive source of ALA is flaxseed oil. DHA and EPA can be obtained through fish oil capsules.
There are several commercial formulations specifically targeted toward children with learning disabilities. Some of the brand names for such supplements are Cormega, Efalex, ProEFA, and Equazen Eye Q.
Keep in mind that although these supplements may help your child, they are not a cure for dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, or any other learning disability — no matter what the manufacturer may claim. However, these supplements do provide nutrients that are known to be necessary to your child's overall health, and so they probably do boost performance for many children.