J500 Media and the Environment

Hooked on Food and Phonics by KaylaReg

Looking back on my childhood, I remember spending weekend afternoons doing Hooked On Phonics, math flashcards and spelling quizzes. No, I wasn’t an especially ambitious student, nor were my parents hoping I’d aspire to be, but as they explained time and time again, I just needed to spend the extra time on things.

No history of malnourishment, food allergies or over exposure to chemicals in food here. According to my mother, a considerable expert in the field, a lot of different factors, likely family history in my case, influence the incidence of learning disabilities.

I began to accept this only after I was diagnosed with dyslexia in middle school and then Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in high school. Although one end of the social spectrum claims ADD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities (which I’ll refer to as LD or LDs) are pretend disorders of a overmedicated, over stimulated generation, I’m fully aware of and comfortable with my learning differences.

What I want to know is how can I make it better?

Right now, many people are saying the answer is in food.

According to a 1975 study by Dr. Ben Feingold, environmental influences, specifically food additives, such as artificial coloring and flavors, affect the incidence of LDs. He found that by eliminating artificial colors and flavors from the diets of children with LDs, in most cases their behavior and overall functioning greatly improved.

Both LDs and concerns over chemicals in food were just starting to be talked about when Feingold conducted the study and he was definitely on to something. A 2005 Environmental Working Group study found the average newborn had 200 chemicals present in the umbilical cord at the moment of birth, a predictor for future cognitive and behavioral impairments, as well as other serious chronic issues.

Feingold’s study also suggests the now popular theory that food allergies manifest in the form of LDs. According to Dr. Ron Hoggan, people with gluten allergies report having some type of LD more frequently than the rest of the population. Research shows that a gluten-free diet can drastically reduce LD related symptoms for those even mildly allergic to the grain.

Besides diet, Feingold additionally attributed LDs to socio-economic status, race and ethnic origin. While he was wrong about that, such factors are correlated to malnourishment, a near guarantee for cognitive impairment.

Research shows that most children diagnosed with LDs are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, important to the cell membranes vital to brain functioning.  Countless studies find that in most cases, giving Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil to children diagnosed with an LD dramatically improves cognition, anxiety, impulsivity, and other LD related symptoms.

Could a fish oil supplement, elimination or gluten-free diet help me?

To find out, I called my mom, who happens to have a master’s degree in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. Go ahead and listen to the interview below to hear her long answer, as well as some other personal and general facts on LDs.

The short answer she gave was yes, but only because  a well-balanced diet will improve anyone’s functioning, and that’s more true now than ever.

According to a 2007 a Boston Globe article, 60 percent of Americans are estimated to be deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. Meanwhile, over the past century, consumption of processed foods rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, which actually harm brain functioning, has increased.

Yes, harmful substances like red dye #3 have been banned since Feingold’s study, but 14,000 other chemicals, including aspartame, MSG, and olestra remain in the American food supply.

So, cue my realization.

The food a person does or doesn’t eat, regardless of whether they have an LD, affects their quality of life. Spending a little extra time planning a diet that improves my day-to-day functioning, even if only by a little, is a huge opportunity.

It’s an opportunity I dare say is even greater than being Hooked On Phonics. And that’s saying a lot.

-Kayla R.


2 Comments so far
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Kayla, this helped me so much. Not only do I feel smarter about my dumbness, I feel liberated and feel like telling the world that I STILL use hooked on phonics. Thanks for the video too, I called the number and they said that I should be getting stuff in the mail soon.
Love you. YOU’RE A GREAT WRITER. gush.

Comment by Hailey


I am curious, how has your health affected your own eating habits? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

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