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Breath Testing for Development Disorders?

by David Taylor(more info)

listed in breathing, originally published in issue 93 - October 2003

Dyspraxia is a childhood neuro-developmental disorder, which is thought by some to affect around 5% of the population. Other names for dyspraxia include Developmental Co-ordination Disorder or Clumsy Child Syndrome. This disorder is characterized by poor motor co-ordination. Some of the features of dyspraxia are common to other neuro-developmental disorders, such as dyslexia, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Some of the clinical signs of dyspraxia in infancy are hyperactivity, hypoactivity, sleep problems, repetitive behaviour, colic, late to walk and delayed language acquisition. Later problems include poor concentration, poor motor skills, language difficulties, digestive problems; sufferers can often be rejected by their peers. The cause of dyspraxia is unknown. There may be some genetic component involved, but some of the symptoms in dyspraxia may be the result of fatty acid deficiencies.

One of these fatty acids, Omega-3, most commonly found in oily fish and flaxseed oil, is one of the vital ingredients for healthy brain development. Some research has shown that deficiencies of Omega-3 fatty acids are strongly linked to arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, skin complaints, asthma, ADHD and depression. They may also play a part in a number of neuro-developmental conditions. It is becoming increasingly common to assist the treatment of these conditions by enhancing the diet with supplements including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. However, fatty acid supplementation therapy can result in increased levels of oxidative stress, which can cause problems if left untreated.

Oxidative stress is the term given to the destructive process caused by free radical molecules. Everyday examples of oxidative stress are apples turning brown, butter turning rancid and iron rusting. However, none of these nuisances compare to what these unstable molecules can do inside the body, especially to cells of the brain.

Free radicals, which are products of normal cell processes, wreak havoc during their hunt for a mate. The source of their devastating actions is this oxygen molecule's unpaired electron, which makes it unstable and electrically charged. It becomes stable by interacting with the nearest available molecule. Having no prejudices, it targets lipids, proteins and DNA. Scientists have discovered that the free radical's actions can damage molecules they react with and sometimes cause the cell's demise.

The body contains chemicals called antioxidants which reduce oxidative stress. Vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, both of which are found in foods and are available as supplements, also reduce the damaging effects of oxidative stress.

Unfortunately, they do not work optimally in the brain, and are not always suitable for the treatment of brain diseases and disorders.

Those taking fatty acid supplements, whether for general health reasons or for specific conditions, may also be more prone to damage by oxygen free radicals. Regular monitoring of oxidative stress is needed during fatty acid supplementation therapy to ensure that sufficient antioxidants are present to control this problem. Monitoring oxidative stress though is difficult, and requires a blood test.

However, there is now a non-invasive way to test for oxidative stress which can also be used to monitor oxidative stress before, during and after fatty acid supplementation therapy. The test, in the form of a simple breath test, requires the person being tested to simply blow into a specially designed bag through a one-way valve. Once the test has been used, the whole test, and the breath sample it contains, is sent for laboratory analysis. The analysis looks at the performance of the Omega-3 fatty acids. The more ethane present in the breath, the more damage oxidative stress is doing to the Omega-3 fatty acids. If left untreated, high levels of ethane could lead to an Omega-3 deficiency. If levels of ethane are found to be high, a healthcare professional, such a GP or nutritional therapist, can advise on the appropriate treatment. Due to the simplicity and non-invasiveness of the test, it can be used regularly to assess the impact of changes to the diet and monitor levels of oxidative stress.

The breath test has recently been used during a trial of 120 dyspraxic children in County Durham to monitor the effects of Omega-3 and Omega-6 supplementation. The results from this trial look extremely promising and are due to be published in the autumn. Practitioners and parents who would like to find out more about the test should contact Pan Diagnostics in Inverness, Tel: 01463 220407.


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About David Taylor

David Taylor is a psychologist with a background in psychopharmacology and development. From working with children he developed an interest in the effects of environmental factors, particularly the effects of nutrition, upon mental and physical health. He is co-director of Optimum Nutrition North East in Durham City, with his wife Sandra, a health psychologist. They take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing focussing upon nutrition, stress and lifestyle. For more information about Optimum Nutrition North East and the services and products available Tel: 0191 3849088; E:; W:

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