Food for Thoughout: The Role of Nutrients in Reducing Aggression, Violence and Criminal Behavior

By Bitsas, Constantine | Corrections Today, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Food for Thoughout: The Role of Nutrients in Reducing Aggression, Violence and Criminal Behavior


Bitsas, Constantine, Corrections Today


Almost nightly, there are numerous news stories of violent acts, as well as television and movie depictions of violence. One can see the devastating effects of violence on individuals, victims and perpetrators alike, as well as their families and entire communities. What is more dismaying than the acts themselves is how frequently the perpetrators are youths, often with little remorse for their actions. Puzzled, society is left to ask some very difficult questions: Why are violent perpetrators ever younger? What motivates someone to commit a violent crime? What can be done to reverse the rise in violence, especially in youths, who represent the future?

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The root causes of delinquency, maladaptive and antisocial behavior, crime and violence have been debated for decades. The medical world has long believed that behavior disorders (ranging for mild temper tantrums to assaultive rages) result from life experiences such as lack of love, bad parenting, child abuse, broken homes and poverty. However, during the past decade, scientific research has shown that imbalances in neurotransmitters, their precursors, and other biochemicals and nutrients can significantly contribute to severe behavior disorders and violence. Even more compelling is the growing number of studies demonstrating that behavior can be enhanced through nutrient supplementation and dietary changes.

The Biochemistry of Violence And Criminal Behavior

The brain is a chemical factory that constantly produces neurotransmitters throughout a person's life. The raw materials are amino acids, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The step-by-step processes by which the body produces the major neurotransmitters have been known for years. One can usually obtain enough nutrients to produce neurotransmitters from a well-balanced diet involving the major food groups. However, many people have poor diet, absorption or metabolic disorders that result in severe nutrient imbalances that adversely affect brain functioning.

It would be a simple matter if all nutrient imbalances were deficiencies, since a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement would then have efficacy. Unfortunately, many imbalances involve overloads of certain nutrients, or the inability to get rid of toxins, and multiple vitamin/mineral supplements can actually make individuals with these imbalances worse.

The connection between behavior and various nutrients has been well established. Studies cited in Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness repeatedly have found that deficiencies in thiamine, vitamin B-6 or folic acid can cause impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness. In addition, research also has demonstrated that youths low in certain fats have more sleep problems, and behavior and learning difficulties than those with higher levels. For example, according to the findings of Laura J. Stevens and others from Purdue University, boys ages 6 to 12 with clinically low values of serum omega-3 fatty acids scored significantly higher on the conduct, anxiety and hyperactivity/impulsivity scales of the Conner's Parent Rating Scales than those with normal or high values.

There is an equally well-established body of knowledge identifying the connection between behavior and trace minerals. Lead, mercury, iodine, cobalt, iron, copper, manganese and zinc have all been found to influence brain development and function. Zinc deficiency can affect emotionality, response to stress, and impact planning skills, attention and inhibition. Dr. William Walsh of the Health Research Institute in Warrenville, Ill., found that of 153 males between the ages of 3 and 20, those with a history of assaultiveness had a 1.4 copper/zinc blood ratio, significantly higher than the 1.02 copper/zinc ratio of those males without a history of assaultiveness. Most notably among the trace minerals, exposure to lead may account, at least partially, for up to 37 percent of arrested delinquents, according to Dr. …

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