Did you know that 1 in 10 Canadians aged 5-44 are estimated to have a learning disability? … If you suspect a learning disability in your family, it may be time to consider an orthomolecular nutrition approach. If you live in Toronto, the GTA, Niagara, Hamilton, or Burlington, give us a call. 

Is it a Learning Difference or a Learning Disability?

The term ‘disability’ in the context of learning has negative connotations and risks labelling people with inferior intelligence.  The stigma is compounded if conventional treatments and programs have been unsuccessful.  Here we look at an approach that reduces stigma and focuses on learning disabilities as: 1) a broad set of symptoms that result in a style of learning that is different than that of typical learning styles; and 2) involves a set of treatable nutritional factors associated with overall learning ability.

Learning Disability: The Definition

Learning disability is poorly defined and the symptoms are debated by researchers.  Learning disability is considered a behavior disorder and its symptoms may include any number of learning deficits involving thought processing and the ability to reason.  It is conventionally defined as a problem involving the organization of thoughts, the acquisition of thoughts, the retention of thoughts, the understanding of thoughts, or the usage of verbal information and/or non-verbal cues.

Though not mentioned often enough, learning disability is also associated with a broad array of sufferings including greater suicide risk, impostor phenomenon (lack of internalizing accomplishments), fragmented sense of self, deep emotional scarring, sleep disturbance, and physical ailments (e.g. immune disorders).

In learning disabilities we often see a crossover of symptoms that are part of the diagnostic profile of ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, anxiety (often triggered by the stress of academic pressure), or depression.  Adding another label can be even more stigmatizing to those with learning disability.

Nutritional and Metabolic Factors Associated with Learning Disability

At a basic level the human mind is immensely complicated but there are several nutritional and metabolic factors that are commonly found and offer treatment hope.  I describe the nutritional and metabolic syndromes involved in my review on behavior disorders, my five part series on kids and behavior disorders, and in my behavior nutrients article.

In summary there are some 15 top nutrient-metabolic imbalances to consider.  Here we look briefly at three common learning disability syndromes – poor methylation, heavy metal excess, and protein breakdown.

Poor methylation syndrome (undermethylation) is a metabolic and/or nutritional compromise where we lack the ability to form protein metabolites on demand.  In mental health this is of paramount importance because we need protein communication molecules (neurotransmitters) in ready supply to aid concentration, thought processing, mood regulation, and perception.

Heavy metal excess is also quite common in learning disability.  If the body retains metals this has a toxic effect on the brain.  Mercury toxicity is associated with poor memory, thought blocking, etcetera.  Another common metal excess issue is copper toxicity.  The symptoms of copper toxicity include right brain dominance and more.

Protein breakdown syndrome is quite common.  Protein is essential for mental health as today’s North American diet with its carbohydrate dominance is significantly protein deficient.  The problem here is two-fold: 1) the lack of substantial amounts of protein; and 2) the lack of high quality protein choices. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol also factor in as this hormone breaks down protein.

Our orthomolecular nutritional approach is empirical; this is explained in my blog on ADD.


MindCheck provides in-depth information on Orthomolecular and Naturopathic approaches to achieving general and mental health.  This series by Dr. Ray Pataracchia ND is endorsed by the Mindful Network – ‘A Better Future for Children’s Mental Health’.

Disclaimer: Information provided is not to be used for self-assessment, diagnosis or treatment.  We advise the public to discuss these topics with their health care provider or book an appointment with our Toronto clinic.