ADD / ADHD Treatment, Dyslexia Treatment, Food and Drink

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fish oils have been promoted not only for dyslexia and ADHD but also heart disease,high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, bipolar disorder and cancer. In some cases there is good evidence to support fish oils as a treatment and in others the evidence is unclear. But what are the health risks of taking fish oils? Lots of producers of fish-oil capsules promote large dosages of supplements so are there any side effects from fish oils?

The US National Institute of Health classifies low intake of omega-3 fatty acids from fish as “Generally Regarded as Safe”. However they do highlight certain fish oil side effects that may trouble some people. The omega-3 in the fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding when taken in large doses. The bleeding can take the form of strokes, nosebleeds and blood in the urine. As the fish oils seem to decrease platelet aggregation, bleeding times may be longer.

A major worry with fish oils and the fish they are created from is poisoning from heavy metal and other pollutants. Mercury, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are found in some species of fish. However, mostly this fish oil side effect is associated with eating fish directly as the oil, even in contaminated fish, carries little of the pollutants.

Stomach upset are a common side effect of fish oil supplements. Diarrhea may also occur, with potentially severe diarrhea at very high doses. There are also reports of increased burping, acid reflux/heartburn/indigestion, abdominal bloating, and abdominal pain. Fishy aftertaste is a common effect. Gastrointestinal side effects can be minimized if fish oils are taken with meals and if doses are started low and gradually increased.

People with low blood pressure or those taking blood-pressure reducing medicines should take care. One of the reported side effects of fish oil is a reduction of blood pressure. The impact on blood pressure appears to be dose dependent.

Vitamin E plays a part in metabolizing omega acids so large doses of fish oil place high demands on the body’s vitamin E supply. To avoid this fish oil side effect, vitamin E is added to many commercial fish oil products. As a result, regular use of vitamin E-enriched products may lead to elevated levels of this fat-soluble vitamin. Fish liver oil contains the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, and therefore fish liver oil products (such as cod liver oil) may increase the risk of vitamin A or D toxicity.

One side effect of fish oils and their fatty acids is an increase low-density lipoprotein levels (“bad cholesterol”) by 5-10%. This is dependent on the dose used. The oils have also been noted to have an effect on blood glucose levels in people with Type 2 / Adult Onset Diabetes but this is short-term and no long-term effects have been reported.

Overall omega-3 and 6 rich fish oils have few side effects and can be considered safe the vast majority of the population.

Source: Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid from the NIH.
See also: The Omega-3 Diet, ALA to DHA: The Fish Oil Alphabet and The Incredible Brain: A Miner Recovered.

Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis

The sad fact is that most children are only diagnosed with dyslexia after several years of struggling at school. The symptoms of dyslexia are often missed in busy classrooms. But learning to read, write and spell are skills not related to intelligence so any child in a mainstream school who is behind their peers at language skills, whether they be verbal or written, should be considered for dyslexia testing.

Less obvious dyslexia symptoms can identify those in need of help. A dyslexic child will often have problems with their five senses, especially vision and hearing. Dyslexics may find it difficult to hear exactly what is being said so they become isolate as they are unable to keep up with their classmates’ conversations. Sometimes their hearing will be over sensitive and they choose to spend a lot of time alone to avoid the shouts and boisterous behavior of other children.

Other problems with their senses may be sensitivity to bright light, particular smells and the feel of certain fabrics. Other dyslexia symptoms and signs can show themselves in general clumsiness, under achievement in sports and a tendency to motion sickness. These indicate an under-developed cerebellum or weak vestibular balance system.

More generally, a child who gets confused easily may be exhibiting symptoms of dyslexia. This may take the form of mixing up left and right. It can also exhibit itself whenever a sequence is involved. Such as remembering directions or a list of instructions. This can also show itself in unusual sentence construction or by mixing up two similar words.

Handwriting and other fine motor-skills are also generally poor in dyslexics. One dyslexia symptom that is a strong indicator of some level of problem is how the child grips the pencil. Adopting a normal pencil grip requires the child to be able to correctly observe how the teacher is doing it and be able to mimic it. This is harder than it seems as they will get confused over the positions of the teacher’s fingers and also have trouble moving their own figures into position.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms or you are generally worried about their school performance then have them tested for dyslexia. It may not be the cause of the problems but with all development problems the sooner they are diagnosed and the sooner treatment begins, the more successful the child will be in school.

Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment

The modern classroom with its tightly controlled and scheduled syllabus is not a good environment for dyslexic children. Any children who falls behind the learning curve is in deep trouble as they have no opportunity to catch up. The classroom is like a production line than forces children to move on to the next class whether they are ready or not. However the Montessori classroom isn’t like that.

Devised in the early 1900’s by Dr Montessori, it is an approach to education that is child centric, focusing on individually-paced learning and development. The Montessori Method should suit a dyslexic child better. Allowing child and teacher to spend time on their basic literacy regardless of the rest of the class’s ability level. As the Montessori method also does away with traditional grading of students there should be less issues about confidence and self-worth. In fact, Montessori and dyslexia should be perfect together.

Another way that Montessori and dyslexia go together is the teaching materials used. Montessori has always used a multi-sensory approach to teaching involving wooden letters to handle and sandpaper letters that children trace out with their figures for a strong tactile feedback. Lots of the Montessori teaching uses physical objects for teaching basic number skills. Making learning movement based, rather than purely paper-and-pencil, increases the opportunities for hand / eye coordination and cross lateral movement.

What the traditional Montessori methods lacks is a strong phonetic element to its teaching. Dyslexics generally struggle to hear the different sounds that make up our language and this undoubtedly plays a significant part in a dyslexic child’s problems with reading and spelling. However many Montessori schools do include phonetic approaches but the emphasis placed on it varies from school to school.

There is not a lot of firm scientific evidence to support the Monsessori method over normal teaching methods and even less specifically looking at dyslexia and Montessori. This is partly because it is hard to separate the outside factors such as class sizes and the children social background from what methods are actually used.

The best indicator as to whether a Montessori school is better for your dyslexic child is how happy your child will be their. Montessori and dyslexia may be a perfect match or it could be no better or worse than a normal educational approach. However a happy child, settled in a school will always do better than an unhappy one.

See: An article on Dyslexia [PDF] from Montessori UK.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment, Dyspraxia, Food and Drink, Memory

VegEPA is a Omega-3 fish oil supplement that has received a lot of media attention this week. Its been everywhere from the Times of London who said “Overweight children who took fatty acid dietary supplements showed dramatic improvements in concentration, reading, memory and mental agility. ” to the Indian Catholic who wrote “at the end of the three-month study found the children showed an increase in reading age of well over a year, their handwriting became neater and more accurate and they paid more attention in class“. None of this coverage of VegEPA has been at all critical apart from Ben Goldacre in the Guardian’s Bad Science column.

Then you might look at the outcomes measured. Behavioural outcomes, in a study of four children, with no control, and lots of extra attention for the subjects – including TV cameras pointing at them – are meaningless. “One boy who previously scorned books and was hooked on TV developed a love of reading and declared he was ‘bored’ with television” said the Daily Mail. I bet he did.

What is VegEPA and does it deserve the uncritical acclaim it has received?

According to the maker’s website each capsule contains 280mg of EPA, 100mg evening primrose oil and 1mg of vitamin E. They recommend children under the age of ten should take one capsule daily but older children and adults should take between four and eight VegEPA tablets. No further information is offered on how to decide how many tablets to take. The US National Institutes of Health recommends a daily intake of 650mg of EPA where as the World Health Organization and governmental health agencies of several countries recommend consuming 300mg – 500mg of EPA + DHA daily. So the VegEPA range for four to eight tables (1120mg – 2240mg) constitutes a high dosage of EPA.

The EPA, or Eicosapentaenoic Acid to give it is full name, in VegEPA is an omega 3 fatty acid. It is metabolized to produce hormone-like agents that play a part in cell division and growth, blood clotting, muscle activity, secretion of digestive juices and hormones, and movement of substances like calcium into and out of cells. However its role in the body is extremely complex so its very hard to clearly identify whether higher-dosages of EPA are beneficial.

One of the key selling points of VegEPA over rivals such EyeQ used in the Durham trials is that VegEPA contains no Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) despite DHA being an omega-6 fish oil that has been linked to similar health benefits as EPA. The problem with DHA is that it competes with EPA for bodily resources so too much DHA may impact on the body’s ability to process EPA. As the western diet already contains as much as 10 time more omega-6 than omega-3 there is no need to take supplemental EPA.

The big question is does VegEPA help dyslexics with reading, concentration and memory? Well Igennus Ltd, the makers, have references to lot of scientific papers on their web site but not one of them is about their product. Not a single peer-reviewed study uses the off-the-shelf product in a properly controlled trial that shows any benefit in reading, concentration or memory for dyslexics of those suffering from ADHD.

A better question is might VegEPA work? Maybe. The National Institute of Health say:

The quantity and strength of evidence for the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive function and decline, dementia, and neurological diseases vary greatly. Given the overall small number of studies and generally poor quality of clinical trials, substantive conclusions about the value of these compounds for these conditions cannot be drawn.

VegEPA may work but you may as well just take normal omega-3 tablets. The simple answer is that we know that omega-3 is an important part of our diet but we don’t know how all the different bodily processes interact with it. There is no evidence that supplements of 200mg of EPA is better or worse that 2000mg for dyslexia and ADHD. It is £11.95 for 60 capsules (about 15 days worth) compared to £7.95 for 100 standard Omega-3 capules (about a month’s supply) . So going for VegEPA will cost you four times as much for something that is not clearly four times as good.

See: ALA to DHA: The Fish Oil Alphabet, ADHD and Omega Fish Oils, The Omega-3 Diet
References: NIH Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health

Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment

A documentary shown on BBC 2 in February about welsh rugby legend Scott Quinnell undertaking the Dore program is on Google Video. Quinnell’s Last Test follows him and his children through a year of treatment for dyslexia. Scott is severally dyslexic and his two children are both struggling with their school work.

Anyone thinking of doing the Dore Program should watch this 30 minute video. It shows exactly how the program works and highlights the effort and drive needed to do the exercises every day for a year. In one part, Scott talking is to Kenny Logan, himself a veteran of the Dore treatment and an international rugby player. They compare notes on their exercises and Kenny reveals the lengths he went to so he could hide his treatment from the his fellow players because he was afraid of ridicule.

Quinnell completes the treatment program and is moved to tears when talking about the program and the benefit it has had on his life.

ADD / ADHD, ADD / ADHD Treatment, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Treatment

Over on Being Dyslexic there is a good post from a parent putting their child through the Dore Program: Our Dore Experience, My son is undertaking the Programme. They seemed to have noticed a rapid improvement in their child’s abilities. This is unusual for the Dore approach as normally requires several months of use before improvements become apparent.

For more first hand accounts of the Dore treatment program, check out the ADD Forums thread Dore and Personal Experiences.

Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia, Dyslexia Testing & Diagnosis, Dyslexia Treatment

Dyslexia Action are the single largest dyslexia related organisation in the UK and actively lobby the government about dyslexia and educational issues.

So what you may ask?

Dyslexia Action are strongly in favour of phonetic approaches to dyslexia and many of the most vocal critics of Dore Achievement Centres either work for them or play a significant role in the organisation. For example, this criticism on Dore’s latest result [ MS Word Doc ] that was published in the journal Dyslexia, was written by Dr John Rack, the
Head of Assessment and Evaluation at Dyslexia Action, and Professor Snowling , the only Honorary Fellow of the Dyslexia Guild (run by Dyslexia Action) along with Professor Hulme, who has done much work with Professor Snowling. The MS Word document I’ve linked to above is hosted by Dyslexia Action.

Dyslexia Action proudly proclaim to be a charity on their website but they also have a commercial side. They sell dyslexia coaching (based on phonetics) and through a wholly owned company called Dyslexia Institute Limited, many related products. What is not made obvious on the web site is how large the commercial aspect is. As their 2006 annual report [ PDF ] reveals £1.3 million was received in donations compared to £6.3 million through the sale of services plus almost £500,000 in sales from its limited company.

With its income from commercial activities over five times larger than what it receives in donations, it is hard to see Dyslexia Action as a charity in the commonly accepted sense. There is no suggestion of impropriety here. The charity’s board of trustees receive no payment or benefit for work, either directly or indirectly. To gain any benefit is illegal for a trustee. However popular perception of a charity is one that raises most of its money from donations and uses the money to provide services either for free or at a discounted rate.

The commercial nature of the charity is further reinforced by the fact it files exactly the same annual report to the Charities Commission as it does for its accounts to Company’s House (legal requirements for UK charities and companies respectively). The highly commercial nature of Dyslexia Action make it a major player in the business of education. Few companies providing out of school education come near the £8.3 million turnover of the chariety.

To my mind, the Dyslexia Action fails the duck test. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then its a duck. Dyslexia Action looks like, sounds like and acts like a commercial company.

Why is this important? Because Dyslexia Action portray themselves as an independent body whose advice concerned parents can rely on. When in fact they are effectively a business with a natural desire to protect their own interests. This makes the criticism of Dore from those highly connected with the charity an attack by one company on the product of a competitor.

The debate and battle between phonetics and cerebellum treatments is a vital one to the future of dyslexia. But it is a battle that must be held in open, with everyone knowing who the sides are and who is genuinely independent. Without all parties being clear about what they represent, parents cannot make informed choices about their children’s future.

Balance & Coordination, Dore Achievement Centres, Dyslexia

Another study indicates possible link between cerebellum and dyslexia.

Previous studies have found that dyslexic children are worse than control children on certain motor and balancing tasks. Here the performance of 28 dyslexic compared to 26 control adults on rapid pointing and balancing measures, tasks which are thought to reflect cerebellar function, was investigated. There were no significant differences between the dyslexic and control participants on the balancing tasks or when the speed and accuracy of pointing were analysed separately. However, when the speed and accuracy of pointing were combined, the dyslexic participants showed poorer performance than the controls (p = 0.045). Furthermore, there were significant relationships between performance on the pointing task and literacy skills, and regression analysis showed that the error and speed of pointing contributed significantly to the variance in literacy skill.

Balancing and pointing tasks in dyslexic and control adults