From the Desk of Carolyn Dean MD ND

Almost a quarter of a century ago, my friend, Helke Ferrie, an anthropologist and medical journalist, explored the research surrounding Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She wrote a wonderful article in Vitality Magazine, April 2000. Since that article is no longer available, I’m going to summarize it and highlight its important points.

Carolyn Dean MD ND

Learning Disabilities Increased Threefold

Between 1976 and 1993, the number of learning disabilities in children in the United States increased threefold. Currently, about 10% of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Curiously ADHD has become epidemic in the US but less so in Europe or Japan. However, when children move to the US they develop the same symptoms.

A deficiency of EFA’s as one possible cause for ADHD was addressed in Medical Hypotheses (Vol.7, 1981) by Vicky Colquhoun, and her daughter Sally Bunday in the UK. Neither had any scientific training, but they had acute powers of observation of their own dyslexic children.

Allopathic medicine treats ADHD with Ritalin, a stimulant that paradoxically appears to calm children down. Sales of this multi-billion-dollar drug have increased by 400 percent since 1995. Unfortunately, there isn’t much difference between Ritalin and crack cocaine. In 1995 the US Drug Enforcement Agency warned doctors about the common chemistry of cocaine and Ritalin.

In January of 2000, the American Medical Association expressed alarm about the fact that children as young as 2 years old are put on Ritalin and 5-year-olds are on Prozac. The long-term effects on the growing brain are unknown as no long-term studies have ever been conducted. Evidence does however exist to show that long-term use of Ritalin significantly reduces blood flow to the brain, disrupts growth hormones, and can cause depression and insomnia.

Ritalin and Prozac

Vicky and her daughter Sally noticed that ADHD kids in their support group were more thirsty than other kids, but that a lot less urine was produced as well. Also, ADHD kids suffered from asthma and dry skin and dry hair far more often than other kids. They dove into the technical literature on the biochemistry of water absorption. Soon they learned that skin is waterproofed through the action of essential fatty acids which – like all nutrients – must be replenished daily through food. They concluded that ADHD children were losing water rapidly through their skin because the waterproofing mechanism was not working. There was a chronic depletion of essential fatty acids in these children. Their skin was also less protected against infection and allergic reactions, hence the frequency of asthma and eczema. As they continued their search, they learned that essential fatty acids (EFAs) from food are converted through the liver and gut metabolism into polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), a very important type of fat.

The PUFAs are the most important brain food without which perception, cognition, memory, attention, spatial behavior, and the eyes simply cannot work properly. Vicky and Sally drew 2 important conclusions:

1) Hyperactivity must be due to a deficiency of EFAs (the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids)

2) These kids cannot convert the EFAs in their diet into the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that the brain requires.

Prompted in part by the work of Vicky and Sally, the British government followed 17,000 children from entry into school for several years. Children who were identified with learning disabilities were supplemented with EFA – with immense success. In 1995 in the US, Purdue University did controlled studies providing incontrovertible proof of the EFA hypothesis. It was found that human breast milk was rich in EFAs, but infant formula contained virtually none – resulting in highly significant differences in IQ. In 1998 EFAs were added to infant formulas at last.

With biochemists studying EFAs all over the world, discoveries are piling up at an amazing rate. Clinical depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, and certain autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, all are associated with depleted levels of EFAs and PUFAs. Ongoing research shows that EFAs are important for:

Improving blood flow
Lowering blood pressure
Brain function
Increasing levels of HDL cholesterol
Lowering the risk of some chronic diseases
Eye Health
Lowering levels of fats (triglycerides) in the blood
Protecting heart health
Lowering the risk of irregular heartbeats
Supporting a healthy heart rate

Structural fat contains EFAs and is a major component of cell membranes, internal organs, brain, and nervous system tissues. And it should not be forgotten that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for your skin as shown by the research on ADHD kids. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation and increase hydration in the skin.

Omega-3 and omega-6 are the two families of EFAs. For optimum health, we need a balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids at a ratio of approximately 1:1.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in flax, mustard and hemp seeds, walnuts, and soybeans. They are even more abundant in fatty fish from cold water: salmon, herring, eel, sardines, mackerel, trout, and halibut. However, seafood has become increasingly contaminated with mercury. Dietary supplements from fish liver have to be heavily processed to remove contaminants. I recommend our Omega-3 Algae A+E as a safe source.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in flax, pumpkin, hemp, sunflower, sesame, and grape seeds, as well as walnuts, peanuts, soybeans, brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds, wheat germ, safflower, and rice bran. But there are several caveats. Nuts should be organically grown and raw (preferably soaked first to remove an enzyme inhibitor) and oils cold-pressed, unrefined, and protected from heat and light. The highest amounts of omega-6 oils, sometimes used medicinally, are found in evening primrose, borage, and black currant seed oils and spirulina.


All the above sounds well and good. However, the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s is more like 1 part to 10 parts with the overuse of omega-6 oils in our diet. Cheap sunflower, safflower, and soy oils dominate our processed foods including so-called, healthy snacks, giving us an overabundance of proinflammatory chemicals that are causing many health problems. The imbalance doesn’t specifically contribute to ADHD, but excess omega-6 fatty acids can negatively affect the body from head to toe.

For a more in-depth look at Omega-6s, please go to my blog “What Am I Not Eating These Days” where I write about Omega-6s and the role they play in our health.

Again, all well and good, but when was the last time your doctor had your blood drawn for Omega-3 or asked you if you were eating enough Omega-3 foods? Until allopathic medicine figures out how to do all that here’s what you can do today.

  1. Enter your current diet in the Cronometer that comes with your Dr. Carolyn Dean membership to find out if you are getting enough Omega-3s in your diet. With the information you’ll get using the Cronometer, you’ll be able to adjust your supplementation or food intake to achieve the optimal balance in your Omega3/Omega 6 ratios to optimize your health.
  2. Purchase the Grassroots Health test kit at to measure your Omega-3 Index, along with whole blood Magnesium, Vitamin D, and TSH for your thyroid. It’s an in-home fingerpick, blood testing kit that you mail to an FDA-approved lab to follow your nutrient levels.

Specifically, the Omega-3 Index measures the amount of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in red blood cell membranes. It is expressed as a percent of total RBC fatty acids. It is a long-term and stable marker of omega-3 status, and it reflects tissue levels of EPA+DHA. An Omega-3 Index over 8% is associated with the lowest risk of death from heart disease and below 4% with the highest.

Carolyn Dean MD ND
The Doctor of the Future