This is from a letter to the editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1997:
A 1974 study by Maurice Bowerman found that 75% of U.S. prison inmates were considered hyperactive as children. There have been numerous studies in the years since suggesting that the behaviour we now call ADHD may be a result of certain nutritional deficiencies which can affect the child in utero.
Because learning ability is involved, the problems associated with ADHD are often confused with those which may result from insufficient oxygen before or during birth. They are not the same. The principal symptoms of ADHD appear to come from impaired development of the fetal brain as opposed to damage related to hypoxia or perinatal asphyxia.
We know that drinking during pregnancy can affect fetal development in this manner, but there is also evidence implicating the processed foods many women consume while pregnant, particularly women in low income situations.
Fetal brain development involves “biomagnification” of essential fatty acids in the liver of both mother and fetus. The problem arises when the maternal diet contains high levels of trans-fats, since trans-fats interfere with the synthesis and utilization of essential fatty acids. Hence the more trans-fats in the mother’s diet, the greater the chance that her child may be born with an abnormality which could affect behaviour.
It should be noted that the EFA requirement of the developing male is approximately three times greater than that of the female. This would explain why ADHD is diagnosed much more frequently in boys. Canadian women currently consume five to ten times the levels of trans-fats considered “safe” by health authorities in other parts of the world. Many countries have taken steps to reduce the trans-fats in their margarines and other manufactured foods. Our government has thus far done nothing but propose labelling changes.
Poor food choices can affect behaviour and learning ability in ways which may not be readily apparent to the average psychologist or psychiatrist (hence the claim from some that these problems are genetic). It’s vital that family dietary patterns be investigated and considered when seeking to understand disorders such as ADHD if we ever hope to advance from treatment to prevention.
Thomas Anderson, Ph.D.
Summerland, British Columbia V0H 1Z0
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