Fish Oil as Healing Brain Food

 

By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP

 

Sometimes a subject comes up that is so wide reaching in its impact that it can’t be ignored. As a special educator for over thirty years, and a nutritionist, I am always on the lookout for ways to relieve suffering in kids who are struggling with learning or behavior. It has come to the point that evidence of the impact of fish oil on the brain and nervous system of these struggling children is so large that I think it deserves its own article.

Recent Trends        

The incidence of children diagnosed with food allergies (notice all the gluten-free and dairy-free items in grocery stores as of late?), asthma, autism, Asperger’s, Sensory Processing Dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, and dysgraphia has increased greatly in the past five years. There is a disproportionate amount of boys in this increase. UCLA School of Medicine has found that boys have a three times higher need for DHAthan girls.1 Why is this occurring? Let’s explore this more.  

Depression

The incidence of depression has skyrocketed in children and adults since World War II. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 11 percent of Americans over the age of 12 take anti-depressants. What is going on? Researchers report that blood levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein are frequently elevated in those diagnosed with depression. Could inflammatory changes in the brain be one of the main drivers behind our epidemic of depression? This may also explain why anti-depressant medications often don’t work for people with depression. Emory University in Atlanta confirmed the depression/inflammatory connection. Fortunately, there are natural ways to reduce inflammation. The most effective way includes a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA in fish oil.2

Dr. Michael Norden, a practicing psychiatrist in New York, uses essential fatty acids, particularly fish oils, for his patients who are suffering from depression. Using fish oil in addition to medication, and sometimes without medication, Dr. Norden reports impressive relief from depression among his patients.3 Likewise, Dr. Andrew Stall, a physician from Harvard, has found that the DHA in fish oil has proven to be extremely helpful in patients suffering with post-partum depression, bipolar, ADD, and ADHD.4

Autism                                                                

Many studies implicate inflammation of the white matter of the brain as a common thread in children diagnosed on the autism spectrum. However, one very unique aspect of fish oil is its effect on the gaze aversion that afflicts so many children who have autism. The rods in the retina of the eye are very responsive to the supplementation of DHA.

Dr. Mary Megson, a developmental pediatrician in Richmond, Virginia, has found that the reason children with gaze aversion will seem to look away from a parent’s face is because when looking directly at the face, all they see is a white block. Thus, they use their peripheral vision to at least get a glimpse of what they are looking at. With proper amounts of naturally occurring Vitamin A and D in cod liver oil, this gaze aversion disappears or is greatly reduced. (Dr. Megson states strongly that it is important that synthetic Vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate not be used.5)

Interestingly enough, I have found this also to be the case in the children in my consultation practice who come to me with gaze aversion. I have always found that with the proper amounts of DHA, for which I use a specific cod liver oil, the gaze aversion is eliminated or reduced by 85 percent. In fact, at the autism conferences at which I speak, I have “before and after” pictures of children with autism, showing the lack of gaze aversion after giving this vital nutrient. In addition to affecting gaze aversion, parents report increased socialization, speech, bladder control, and sensory processing after even a short time of implementing this supplementation. It has also helped many children who are struggling with ADHD, dyslexia, and bipolar disorder.6

Traumatic Brain Injury

Probably the most dramatic healings reported after the introduction of high amounts of fish oil have come from the healing of traumatic brain injuries that were not responding to other treatments.

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