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Do the wrong dietary fats affect IQ? Could the health of the gut adversely affect the human brain? A national conference in London held last October explored these issues and focused on the latest research into the effects of diet and environment on childhood behavior and learning ability. The event, "Children's Mental Health - Feeding the Next Generation," provided practical solutions by experienced clinicians on how to manage, and in many cases, prevent disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and autistic spectrum with whole, nutritious foods and dietary supplementation.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Learning Disorders
Dr. Alex Richardson, Senior Research Fellow at Mansfield College and the Department of Physiology, University of Oxford, spoke about which fats can make children smart and which cannot. She explained that children no longer consume enough of the vital Omega-3 fats contained in oily fish crucial for brain development and function. Another common fall-out from a lack of essential fats is low immunity and allergies. The result is a huge rise in behavioral and learning disorders in children. Many children also suffer from enzyme deficiencies, malabsorption problems, food intolerances and gastrointestinal problems. Although diet plays a crucial role, extra help is usually required in the form of nutritional supplements such as probiotics (a source of helpful bacteria for the intestines) and vitamins.
Diet and Behavior
Dr. Neil Ward, senior lecturer in analytical and environmental chemistry at the University of Surrey, studies and compares the effects of toxic substances on the mind and body. Ward has found that many hyperactive children have a unique chemical profile, reflected in their hair samples. Deficiencies in selenium, zinc, and chromium are commonplace and play an important role in behavioral problems. A dietary deficiency of zinc alone in certain individuals is known to lead to aggression and depression. Toxic elements, such as aluminum, cadmium, and lead have long been associated with hyperactivity in children, as well as juvenile delinquency and violence. In addition, toxic metals block the utilization of essential trace elements (such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc) required for the normal development of a child's brain and immune system. The conventional medical approach to ADHD and other mental health problems involves taking a prescription drug like Ritalin to suppress symptoms, but does not explore biochemical causes. Ritalin may be necessary in some cases, but experts agreed the nutritional approach should be the first line of therapy. Lastly, speaker Bernard Gesch related diet to crime and antisocial behavior. He and his team of researchers conducted a scientific trial at Oxford University and found that by simply adding vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to the diet of 231 young offenders at a maximum-security institution in Aylesbury, there was a 26 percent reduction in offenses. Commented Gesch, "Clinical studies suggest that nutrition is cheap, humane, and highly effective at reducing antisocial behavior. If reinstating a healthier diet produces better results with offenders, then it is worth investing in nutrition as this may ultimately mean fewer victims."