Food and Behaviour Research

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A biochemical approach to the problem of dyslexia.

Baker, S.M. (1985) J Learn Disabil. 18(10) 581-4. 


No abstract available.


This report describes the case of a boy diagnosed with dyslexia, for whom biochemical testing revealed various imbalances. Correcting these with nutritional supplements led to clear improvements in his school work. His story illustrates the importance of treating the individual child rather than the apparent problem of his dyslexia (which had not responded to conventional remedial teaching methods).

Deficiencies in certain fatty acids were considered the single most important factor in this case, but some vitamins and minerals were also lacking. To anyone familiar with the signs, this child's fatty acid deficiency was evident from simple observation, (rather nicely nicknamed by the author as 'The Mirror Test'), although it was also confirmed via biochemical testing. As the author explains:

"Michael had very dry, patchy, dull, skin. Like a matte finish on a photograph, his skin, as well as his hair, failed to reflect light with a normal lustre. His hair was easily tousled and when pulled between the fingers it had a straw-like texture rather than a normal silky feel. He had dandruff. The skin on the backs of his arms was raised in tiny closed bumps like chicken skin. His fingernails were soft and frayed at the ends. All of these findings point to an imbalance of fatty acids."

These features - together with excessive thirst and frequent urination - are classic physical signs of fatty acid deficiency. A simple checklist scale for assessing these has since been used in research studies of ADHD, dyslexia and autism.

Following nutritional intervention to correct the biochemical imbalances that testing had identified, this child finally began to make good progress at school:

"Improvement in Michael's school work coincided with the return of normal lustre and texture to his skin and hair. If he had been a cocker spaniel his family would have accepted the connection between his "glossier coat" and better disposition more readily. The timing was convincing. Although it is never enough to establish "proof" in a given person, Michael was convinced. He saw and felt the changes together, and he understood the idea behind the work we did with him. With a twinkle in his eye, he told his grandmother that dandruff had been the cause of his dyslexia."

The author takes great care to emphasise that "with all our efforts. we had not discovered 'the cause of dyslexia'." Sadly, however, he also reports that by taking this biochemical approach "we had raised the ire of specialists, who chided Michael's parents with sometimes fairly barbed advice to the effect that 'Nutrition has nothing to do with dyslexia'."

Given that adequate nutrition is simply fundamental to brain function, this kind of comment only reveals that some so-called 'specialists' are ignorant of this basic fact. One might hope that anyone genuinely interested in helping children with behavioural or learning difficulties would at least keep an open mind. As this author points out: "if the stakes are high. and the risk or cost is low. then surely it makes sense to consider any factor that has reasonable odds of playing a role?"


This eminently sensible report was written almost 20 years ago - and yet little has changed since then to encourage the investigation of possible nutritional factors as part of standard practice in the management of dyslexia and related conditions such as ADHD. A biochemical / nutritional approach obviously cannot be expected to help every child with behavioural or learning difficulties - but in our view, it should never be overlooked or dismissed.

This early report is of considerable value as a well-documented single-case study, but randomised controlled treatment trials remain the only way to provide unequivocal evidence of benefits from the kind of treatment used here. A few such studies have already produced preliminary evidence of benefits in dyslexia and ADHD, and FAB Research remains firmly committed to supporting more such trials.