Food and Behaviour Research

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Fatty Acids in Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and the Autistic Spectrum

Date: 2001

This article was primarily written to provide a review of this area for nutrition practitioners, GPs and other health professionals. However, it may also prove useful to many parents, teachers or other individuals or groups with an interest in the practical management of these conditions.

Only an outline summary is provided here. The full article can be downloaded as a pdf file (see below)


The different diagnostic labels of dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) refer to specific patterns of behavioural and learning difficulties. Each involves a different set of ‘core’ defining features, and identification and management of each is usually by different professional specialists. In practice, however, the overlaps between these conditions are substantial.

In none of these conditions is the possible role of nutrition considered as part of standard evaluation and management, despite its obvious and fundamental importance for optimal functioning of the brain. A whole range of micronutrients is essential in this respect, but in particular, there is mounting evidence – summarised here - that deficiencies or imbalances in certain highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFA) of the omega-3 and omega-6 series may contribute to both the predisposition and the developmental expression of dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism.

If this is so, then dietary supplementation with the relevant HUFA may help in the management of these kinds of behavioural and learning difficulties. Few well-designed controlled trials of fatty acid treatment in these conditions have yet been carried out to test this hypothesis, so further research in these areas is still needed. However, the preliminary evidence from such studies is evaluated here, followed by consideration of its implications for clinical practice.