Does Nutrition Play a Role in Psychological Disorders? (Such as ADHD, Dyslexia, and Autism)


Author: Adekola Taylor
August, 2015


The childhood developmental psychological disorders of dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autistic spectrum disorders and dyslexia are each defined in a relatively specific and different pattern of problems in learning and/or behavior. Dyslexia is associated with specific difficulties with writing and reading; ADHD is characterized by hyperactive-impulsive behaviors and/or attention problems; autistic spectrum is associated with impairment in communication and social skills; and dyspraxia is characterized by specific weaknesses in planning, organization and coordination of actions (Richardson, 2003). In recent times, some studies have been performed to define the role of nutrition in psychological disorders, such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD.

There is an increasing interest in the hypothesis that enhanced nutrition may positively influence mental health and deprivation of nutrition may result to psychological disorders. This paper is written to support the fact that nutrition plays a vital role in psychological disorders. Some studies have shown links between nutritional deficiencies and some psychological disorders. The prevalent nutritional deficiencies linked with psychological disorders that include B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, and minerals are neurotransmitter's precursors (Lakhan and Vieira, 2008). Research evidence suggests that functional imbalances or deficiencies in specific highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) of omega-6 and omega-3 series may be responsible for a broad range of psychological and developmental disorders (Reis and Hibbeln, 2003).

Fatty Acids and Brain Functions

Fatty acids play an essential role in the brain function and structure, for instance, two fatty acids namely docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (omega-3) and arachidonic acid (AA) (omega-6) play a crucial structural role in the eye and brain, constituting above 30 % of the retina and 20% of the dry weight of the brain. Fatty acids of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and dihomogamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) have been shown to elicit a minor structural role but were significant for the normal functioning of the brain (Richardson, 2003). Omega-6 and omega-3 series are the precursors of essential fatty acids (EFA) and are all substrates for various series of molecules, in particular prostaglandins that play a significance role in the regulation of body and brain functions. The HUFA needed by the brain are synthesized from the precursors of EFA through the processes of desaturation and elongation.

Mild deficiencies of omega-6 (AA) have been linked with reduced head circumference and low birth weight. AA also elicits a vital role in the cellular processes essential for memory and learning. The adequate supply of DHA is needed for normal cognitive and visual development. DHA is specifically located in highly active membranes, such as photoreceptors and synapses. For the optimal brain function, the adequate supplies of HUFA are crucial throughout life. During early development and in any human developmental stage, sufficient supplies of HUFA are crucial for brain development and normal brain function. Valentine's Day

Fatty Acid Deficiencies

A study conducted at Purdue University in the USA showed that children with ADHD were less probably fed with breast milk containing preformed HUFA, such as DHA and AA, showed clinical manifestations of EFA deficiency, and showed reduced level of HUFA (e.g. EPA, DHA and AA) in their blood but not in EFA precursors (Stevens et al., 1995). The results of this study back the idea of EFA abnormalities in ADHD with an indication of malfunctioning in the conversion of EFA to HUFA. It was also reported that supplementation with AA, DHA, EPA and DGLA improved blood fatty acid profile in ADHD children with was related to some decrease in ADHD symptoms. This is a pointer that the supplementation of omega-3 fatty acid is important in the management of the cognitive, and attention problems related to ADHD.

A study of children with dyspraxia treated with fatty acid supplementation containing AA, DGLA, EPA and DHA, it was found that after supplementation improvements were evident in their manual dexterity, dynamic and static balance, ball skills and dyspraxia symptoms (Richardson, 2003). It has also been showed that fatty acid treatment in dyslexia improve visual functions and serves as an indication the omega-3 fatty acids can be used to visual problems associated with dyslexia. It is crystal clear that many characteristics related to dyslexia, autistic spectrum disorders, ADHD and dyspraxia are associated with imbalances or deficiencies in HUFA. These abnormalities with HUFA may slightly increase the trend of birth and pregnancy complications, some physical abnormalities, and some autoimmune disorders in affected persons.


Invariably, fatty acid malformation is associated with the main behavioral and cognitive features characteristics of irregular motor, attention, language, or visual processing, and also some problems associated with appetite, sleep, and mood and temperature regulation. From the available evidence from both experimental and clinical studies, HUFA depletion may result to irregularity in developmental conditions which may result to psychological disorders. Therefore, the physical symptoms of fatty acid deficiency as evident in reduced blood concentrations of HUFA, such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, brittle nails, dry skin or hair are all glaringly associated with autistic spectrum disorders, dyslexia and ADHD. Finally, it is not an overstatement to say that nutritional plays a crucial role in psychological disorders taking into consideration the importance of HUFA on the brain function as an outstanding example.


Lakhan Shaheen E and Vieira Karen F. (2008). Nutritional therapies for mental disorders Nutrition Journal, 7:2 Retrieved from

Reis L.C. and Hibbeln J.R. (2006). Cultural symbolism of fish and the psychotropic properties of omega-3 fatty acids. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids,75(45):227-236

Richardson Alexandra J. (2003). The importance of omega-3 fatty acids for behaviour, cognition and mood. Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, 47 (2): 92-98

Stevens L.J., Zentall, S.S., Deck J.L,. Abate M.L., Watkins B.A., Lipp S.R., Burgess J.R. (1995). Essential fatty acid metabolism in boys with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr, 62: 761-768.

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