Apraxia refers to a brain and nervous system disorder in which the person has difficulty performing purposeful tasks or movements. Apraxia can affect movement of the face or limbs, as well as more complex learned behaviors, such as using silverware, getting dressed and speech. Supplemental fish oil might improve the long-term outcome of certain types of childhood movement and speech apraxia.
Apraxia of Speech and Behavior
Childhood apraxia of speech, or CAS, is a developmental disorder that affects the ability to say sounds, syllables and words. When it primarily affects fine motor behavior, apraxia is sometimes referred to as dyspraxia or developmental coordination disorder. Children with either CAS or dyspraxia often show difficulties in various areas of functioning. They display problems with speech, coordination, range of movement, regulation of emotions, working and short-term memory and have other cognitive difficulties, a well.
Fatty Acid Link
Several childhood developmental and neurological conditions have been linked to deficiencies in long-chain polyunsaturated acids, or PUFAs. Roughly 60 percent of the brain is comprised of lipids, which are made of fatty acids, according to “Lipids in Health and Nutrition.” Consequently, problems in processing fatty acids can have a significant impact on neurological and behavioral functioning. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and apraxia have been linked to deficiencies in processing certain nutrients, including fatty acids. As of 2011, growing research demonstrates that children afflicted with these conditions might show improvements when treated with supplements that contain fatty acids, including DHA and EPA, according to pediatrician Claudia Morris from the Children’s Hospital & Research Center in Oakland, California, as well as Medline Plus, a medical website sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. DHA and EPA are the two omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish oil.
EPA and DHA Effect On Apraxia
Morris had parents administer vitamin E and fatty acid supplements of DHA and EPA to 187 children with speech apraxia. She describes the results in the July/August publication of “Alternative Therapies.” Morris suggests that malabsorption of vitamin E might cause neurological abnormalities by creating a neural environment within cell membranes where long-chain fatty acids are vulnerable to damage by free radicals. Morris found a pattern in children with speech apraxia whereby they tend to have food allergies or gluten sensitivities, deficiencies of vitamin E and fat malabsorption. After treatment with vitamin E and DHA/EPA, 97 percent of the children showed dramatic improvements in speech, imitation, eye contact, coordination, behavior, development of pain sensation and GERD symptoms.
Fatty acid supplements will not work on all children, notes neurologist Alexandra Richardson. Many children already get sufficient fatty acids through their diet and metabolism. Certain children are more likely to benefit from fatty acid supplementation, including children who show signs of fatty acid deficiency, such as dry skin, excessive thirst and frequent urination; allergic tendencies, such as eczema, asthma or hay fever; have visual perceptual problems such as blurring or perception of movement of letters when trying to read; and who have emotional sensitivity, low frustration tolerance and mood swings.
Consult with your child’s doctor before supplementing with fish oil. Fish oil is available in child-friendly forms, such as flavored oil, gummy candy, chews and squeeze packets. Check the label to make sure the supplement has more EPA than DHA and start out at a dosage of around 500 mg of EPA/DHA daily, according to Richardson. If the supplement does not contain vitamin E, include a vitamin E supplement, following the recommended dosage for your child’s age. It will take two or three months before you can expect to see the maximum benefits from fish oil supplementation.