According to conventional wisdom, the likely causes of crime are poverty and family breakdown. Other contributing factors could include violent media and video games, disenfranchisement and a loss of moral values creating an environment in which some kinds of criminal behaviour are more accepted.
What about nutritional issues? Could diet be a less recognised cause of violent and antisocial crimes? A growing number of scientific papers are confirming the existence of a link between the two.
With nutritional deficiencies directly connected to crimes involving aggression, there are some interesting moral ramifications. Is the offender culpable, especially if that person lives at home and is given an unhealthy diet by his or her parents? More challengingly, if this unhealthy diet is eaten by most of the population, is society responsible for crime? What about the food companies? If it is promoted on TV, should accountability be laid at the door of broadcasters?
Poor diet is tied to low income. Sometimes this is a matter of less knowledge about healthy food, but, more fundamentally, households that are being financially squeezed are more likely to prioritise rent, bills and car repairs ahead of a healthy diet and are inclined to fall back on such cheap, nutrient-empty foods such as quick noodles. One step in the right direction is to implement economic policies that narrow the divide between rich and poor.
Tackling ADHD & aggression
Many of those languishing in prisons today were once unruly and delinquent children, so any investment in tackling behavioural problems at an early age will pay dividends down the track.
Although people affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually go on to live normal lives, an association between ADHD and crime has been clearly identified. Those with ADHD are over-represented behind bars, with US figures showing that the jail population is eight times more likely to have the condition.
While pharmaceutical drugs are commonly used to tackle ADHD, nutritional strategies are widely considered to be just as effective, lack the side-effects and tackle some of the root causes rather than serve as a Band-aid.
Some of the best supplements for ADHD are vitamin B complex (especially B6 and B12), vitamin C, magnesium, zinc, fish oil and protein. A 2006 French study found that behaviour improved significantly when people with ADHD took magnesium together with B6, a useful co-factor in aiding absorption.
In 2004, American researchers looked at children living on the island of Mauritius off the east coast of Africa. At the age of eight, they identified a 41 per cent increased likelihood of aggression among children with deficiencies among four important nutrients (protein, zinc, iron and riboflavin, or B2). By the mid-teens, among 17-year-olds with nutritional shortfalls there was a 51 per cent increased probability of violent and antisocial behaviour.
The thiamine connection
American doctor and nutritional researcher Derrick Lonsdale believes most unruliness in schools can be traced back to high-calorie, refined, sugary foods with little nutritional benefit.
In 1980, he organised for a group of healthy people to receive a diet deficient in thiamine (vitamin B1). These individuals were observed to become quarrelsome and irritable, and later aggressive, with their behaviour returning to normal when given significant doses of thiamine*.
Thiamine, in particular, helps the brain and nervous system to metabolise glucose. As a sufficient quantity of white flour and refined sugar depletes thiamine (plus the other B vitamins) in the body, daily requirements are higher among people who eat high-sugar diets. A healthy nervous system could be regarded as the foundation for mental and emotional health and stability.
Lonsdale concluded that a decreased efficiency in brain metabolism causes the “primitive brain” (stem) to come to the fore, while its connections with the more evolved “cognitive brain” (cortex) grow weaker. Through this mechanism, an individual may become consumed by their aggressive instincts.
Omega-3 & the brain
Joseph Hibbeln is a leading researcher in the field of fats and brain development who has been vocal about the well-established link between omega-3 oils, brain function and mental health. He has found that violent criminals tend to have low omega-3 oil levels.
The past few decades have seen a major change in the average Western diet, as a shift towards industrialised food has caused the omega-3 intake to drop, while levels of the omega-6 polyunsaturated oils typically founds in processed foods have shot through the roof.
A recommended omega-6:omega-3 ratio lies in the range between 5:1 and 1:1, whereas a processed diet offers somewhere around 20:1. Good omega-3 sources are oily fish such as sardines and salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and grass-fed beef. Omega-6 sources include corn, soy, canola, sunflower and safflower oils (most of which are genetically modified and should be avoided).
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are so-named because they can only be obtained from food, and play a key role in brain health. Synapses (junctions where nerve cells interconnect with other nerve cells) are made up of around 60 per cent DHA, the omega-3 EFA obtained from a limited range of sources including oily fish, fish oil, krill oil and some algae products. Hibbeln’s theory is that, when the brain builds these structures from omega-6 in place of omega-3, they function in an inferior way.
Other work carried out by the American nutritional medicine expert Dr William Walsh has identified a correlation between individuals exhibiting violent behaviour and imbalanced trace mineral levels in the body, in particular elevated copper and depleted zinc, together with high traces of lead.
According to Walsh, this imbalance (referred to as Type A) can lead to fighting among boys and promiscuity among girls. Excess copper can be passed down the generations, with high-copper babies being born to high-copper mothers.
A second group (Type B), characterised by low copper and zinc levels coupled with high lead, is associated with a range of behaviours that include assault, lack of remorse and lying. Despite affecting only a small percentage of the population, most mass murderers who have been tested fall into the Type B category.
Both imbalances can be detected using hair analysis and rectified within a few weeks through a nutritional balancing program.
Are you getting enough?
Anybody who is exposed to mainstream health advice will have heard the message that a healthy diet is sufficient to obtain one’s nutritional needs. While it is preferable to obtain nutrients from food rather than via pills, this stance is overly simplistic. To give one example, vegetarians and vegans can only obtain sufficient DHA through supplements.
At a more fundamental level, the nutritional quality of food has been dropping decade by decade since the start of the industrial farming era. This can be traced back to the use of synthetic fertilisers, whose acidity tends to kill soil microbes, making it harder for minerals in the soil to be taken up by plants.
Some of the depletion of trace minerals has been huge. A 1992 Earth Summit report indicated that over the past hundred years the average loss in Australia has been about 55 per cent, while in North America, the most enthusiastic adopter of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture, this fall has been a staggering 85 per cent.
A good solution is to follow a diet rich in nutrient-dense superfoods, together with some nutritional supplements. Organic food is typically higher in nutrition and supports a form of farming that enhances rather than depletes soil quality. For optimum health, we should be looking to exceed the recommended daily intake (RDI) by a significant margin.
Until the sceptics who continue to disparage supplements can back up their views with a plan to replace all the lost soil minerals, industrial farming will continue to be a hidden contributor to crime statistics.
Prison or the healthy diet alternative
Jail is an expensive option for society, and also for taxpayers, who support each prisoner to the tune of AU$315/NZ$260/US$274 a day, or AU$115,000/NZ$95,000/US$100,154 per year. The proportion of these men and women who find themselves incarcerated as a result of dietary deficiencies may be very high.
In the case of serial criminals, investigations have found that usually their diets are nutritionally deficient in the extreme, with a high sugar and refined carbohydrate intake that leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar.) According to 1982 figures, this was diagnosed in about 90 per cent of all US inmates; it can cause irritability, paranoia and sudden violent behaviour.
Some remarkable early work was carried out by Barbara Reed Stitt, working as a probation officer in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, during the 1960s and 1970s. She launched an initiative that tackled the dietary causes of adolescent reoffending and observed that the recidivism rate over a five-year period was an incredibly low 11 per cent. Having carried out hundreds of “home investigations”, she noticed that in the homes of violent offenders there was never any fresh, nutritious food.
Within the prison system, too, it has been found that a healthier diet translates into a calmer environment. In 2002, research scientist and former probation officer Dr Bernard Gesch conducted what is considered to be one of the first high-quality randomised controlled trials.
At a maximum security prison for violent offenders in the UK, 231 young male inmate volunteers were given either capsules with vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, or a placebo. While no change was observed in the placebo group, instances of offences dropped by 25 per cent among the supplement group, and more serious violent offences fell by 37 per cent. When the trial finished, the rate of offences unsurprisingly reverted to the previous level.
Very similar results came out of a 2010 Dutch jail study. Violent events in the supplement group dropped 34 per cent, while in the placebo group they increased by 14 per cent.
Given these successes, it would be highly counterproductive if the quality of prison food were to fall victim to cost-cutting, with many offenders consuming the same deficient diets both in and out of jail when the best outcome would be achieved by making jail food as healthy as possible.
Prevention is better than cure
Essentially, prison could be regarded as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff after preventive strategies have failed.
In addition to the human toll, the economic argument for prevention is hugely persuasive. By spending cents it’s possible to save dollars. American natural health advocate Mike Adams has called for supplements to be made available to the whole population, free of charge.
Orthomolecular medicine, the area of tackling disease via targeted nutrition, is proving useful for both behavioural issues and a wide range of mental health symptoms. Although most adults do not engage in criminal acts, most of us periodically encounter angry outbursts and road rage incidents. At a societal level, dietary improvements are likely to help people to get along with one another better and create a more harmonious living environment.
Despite appearing to be a no-brainer, dietary intervention has faced an uphill struggle, with only a limited number of supporters. One of these is Dr Bernard Gesch, whose British charity Natural Justice focuses on the social and physical causes of crime. In both Australia and New Zealand, initiatives in this area appear to be limited or non-existent. This may be partly due to the issue being a bit too left field for conventional and authoritarian mindsets.
Added to this is the predictable “tough on crime” rhetoric uttered by political candidates during election campaigns. A case of tackling the symptoms rather than the causes, it is seen as useful for attracting the populist “talkback radio” voter who is inclined to call for tougher sentencing and Spartan prison conditions. Similarly, sophisticated crime solutions are sometimes kept under the radar for fear of offending the same type of person.
Encouragingly, though, Gesch has observed a slow shift in attitude among the authorities, helped by a body of strong and rigorous scientific studies. The US, with the highest incarcerated population in the world, is one of the most proactive countries. We can hope that the rest of the world gets on board soon with programs operating on a far wider scale.
Courtesy: Martin Oliver on 27 February 2015. Posted by WellBeing Natural Health & Living News. Martin Oliver is a writer and researcher based in Lismore, northern NSW, Australia.
* When supplementing, always use a B-Complex