Child violence is a new epidemic. The main vector of this epidemic disease, of kids-killing-kids, kids who are “looking for love in all the wrong places,” is chronic malnutrition. If it is true that body chemistry plays a definitive role in causing abnormal behavior, then it is largely a waste of time to treat violent criminals by incarcerating them and neglecting the critical factor of their diet.
Constant parental guidance was available fifty years ago, with the mother at home cooking good wholesome meals and providing on-the-spot emotional support. Ever higher taxes have forced both parents to work outside the home, purchase factory foods and allow unsupervised television programing that breeds rampant materialism–that has latch-key kids killing for fashionable clothes and joining gangs as a substitutes for the caring intimacy no longer provided by their family–all these contribute to our sick society. But the major culprit is bad food.
Several important researchers have firmly established the link between malnutrition and childhood violence. Their ideas are summarized here, but the reader is encouraged to obtain and read the entire articles cited for additional insights.
HIGH CALORIE MALNUTRITION
“Crime and Violence: A Hypothetical Explanation of Its Relationship With High Calorie Malnutrition,” Derrick Lonsdale MD as principal author, reviews the evidence that high calorie malnutrition contributes to crime and senseless violence.1 High calorie malnutrition is defined as calorie excess with nutrient deficiencies that result in inadequate ability to utilize these calories efficiently. It may be that some of the by-products of incomplete oxidation are themselves toxic and interfere with the body’s otherwise carefully buffered acid-base balance.
It is now abundantly clear that nutritional substances have a profound effect on brain balance. Thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency can result in irritability and poorly controlled behavior. Without thiamine, cholinergic metabolism fails. After several months of nutritional supplementation, patients who are initially difficult and rude become more compliant. But thiamine taken in doses that are thousands of times greater than a physiologic dose (as might happen with supplementation or food fortification) is known to cause cholinergic paralysis.
Studies comparing hair mineral profiles of violent and nonviolent criminals show a consistently different pattern for each group. It has been suggested that murder can result from anger “with the volume turned up” in the setting of abnormal chemistry induced by malnutrition.
Medication intervention may have an effect also. For example, it is obvious to the clinician that the widespread use of hormone therapy can have profound effects upon the emotional balance of women in relation to their menstrual cycle. The misuse of antibiotics and other powerful drugs may be altering biological mechanisms in a way that weakens our ability to adapt to the stress forces of the world. Functional changes in the nervous system cannot easily be captured and analyzed. High calorie malnutrition can create “irritable brainstem” since that is the tissue that demands highly efficient oxidative metabolism. This “irritable brainstem” can “turn up the volume” of the response and in the worst scenario create temporary insanity and take over the complete behavior of the individual. The trigger to such behavior may be something quite trivial, such as being cut off in traffic by another vehicle, or even enduring a lengthy red signal at a stoplight. Addictive states and many street drugs can do the same thing.
VITAMIN B12 DEFICIENCY
According to John V. Dommisse, MD, an expert in vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) deficiency and therapy, the psychiatric conditions most associated with vitamin B12 deficiency include toxic brain syndrome, paranoia, violence and depression. There is a well documented association between B12 deficiency and dementia. In an article entitled “Subtle Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Psychiatry: A Largely Unnoticed But Devastating Relationship?” published in Medical Hypotheses,2 Domisse expresses the opinion that most cases of so-called “Alzheimer’s dementia” (“idiopathic dementia”) are actually cases of B12 deficiency. According to Domisse, B12 deficiency can cause depression and even, in certain cases, bipolar-1 disorder (manic-depressive illness) and, more commonly, bipolar-2 disorder (cyclothymic personality).
Says Domisse: “The third most common psychiatric manifestation of this deficiency is violent behavior, yet how often is this deficiency ever sought or treated in criminal cases of violent behavior? I have witnessed numerous cases of rage attacks, temper outbursts, domestic violence, etc., where the violence ceased after the patient’s B12 deficiency was diagnosed and properly treated.”
The fourth and last major psychiatric effect of this deficiency is paranoid ideation and even paranoid psychosis (but not schizophrenia).
Fatigue is another symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency but the medical community has been slow to recognize the connection. “Even after major articles, like that of Lindenbaum in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1988,” says Domisse, “fatigue is still not recognized as a prominent feature of B12 deficiency syndrome. Peripheral neuropathy is another non-psychiatric condition that can result from this and other B vitamin deficiencies. However, by the time the deficiency is recognized (serum level below 200 pg/ml), just as in the case of the dementia, the neuropathy may well have become irreversible. Then the treating physician will say, ‘See, B12 treatment does not reverse dementia (or neuropathy)!'”
A major point by this author is that the range used to establish serum vitamin B12 deficiency in conventional medicine (less than 200 to 400 pg/ml) is far too low. When peripheral neuropathy occurs in this range, it is often permanent. The author suggests that 1,000 to 2,000 pg/ml may be the optimal range. The hydroxy- and methyl- forms of vitamin B12 are generally recommended. Cyanocobalamin at high doses has never been shown to be toxic. Oral doses of 1,000 to 5,000 ug daily have been used in cases of pernicious anemia to maintain these patients’ vitamin B12 levels. Oral doses of 1,000 to 2,500 ug after both breakfast and supper seem the best way to maintain very high levels of serum vitamin B12.
Any child with violent tendencies, especially when accompanied by fatigue and neuropathy, should be tested for vitamin B12 deficiency. An acute condition can be treated with oral supplements or vitamin B12 injections. In the long term, the best protection is a diet rich in animal foods.
METALS AND THE BRAIN
“A Brief History of the Influence of Trace Elements on Brain Function,” by Harold H. Sanstead, MD and published in The Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looks at the influence of trace minerals–lead, mercury, cobalt, iron, copper, manganese and zinc–on brain function.3
The association of lead exposure with nervous system disorders has been known since Roman times. Peripheral neuropathy and encephalopathy were noted in exposed individuals. Most recently increased levels of lead in deciduous teeth have been associated with attention deficit disorder, reduction in IQ and other neuropsychological dysfunction.
Mercury’s effect on the nervous system has been known for centuries. Nineteenth century hatters had classic psychosis when overexposed to mercury nitrate from the manufacturing of hats. Clinical manifestations include ataxia, numbness of the extremities, deafness, poor vision, confusion, violence, dullness and death. Pathologic findings include degeneration of peripheral and posterior spinal nerves, the posterior columns of the spinal cord, cells of the cerebellum, and neurons in the cerebral cortex.
Iodine’s effect on the nervous system is usually due to a deficiency, not excess. Severe intrauterine iodine deficiency impairs brain growth and maturation and results in cretinism. It was not until the early 20th century that it was discovered that endemic goiter could be prevented by iodine supplementation. The author suggests that iodine deficiency may be the most important trace element deficiency in humans with regards to neuropsychological development.
Cobalt is involved in nervous function because of its association with cobalamin (vitamin B12). Cobalt was discovered to be part of the cobalamin molecule in 1948. Cobalamin and thus cobalt are needed for appropriate homeostasis of the nervous system.
Iron deficiency is associated with impaired mental performance. Serum ferritin levels have been correlated with electrophysiological and cognitive indices in young adults. There is an association between iron and dopaminergic neurons. In other words, adequate iron levels help the brain work smoothly and calmly.
Maternal copper deficiency in lambs may cause neonatal enzootic ataxia. These lambs have foci of amyelination in the cerebrum and demyelinization of the spinal cord. The copper-
dependent enzyme cytochrome oxidase, when low in the brains of animal models, is the suspected cause of suppressed myelin formation. Menke’s syndrome, which is an inborn error of metabolism and copper absorption utilization, can result in severe myelin deficits and neuronal death in infants. Copper is extremely important during intrauterine neonatal life.
Excess copper can also be a problem. Copper accumulation causes neurologic degeneration such as in Wilson’s disease. Zinc has shown to be of some benefit in this condition.
Manganese deficient animals have shown ataxia as well as lower seizure thresholds. Elevated amounts of manganese have shown toxicity in the nervous system. Excess manganese can accumulate by inhalation in the basal ganglia. This occurs in exposed miners who develop dementia and Parkinsonism. Violent behavior is a characteristic of manganese poisoning.
Zinc deficiency can result in teratogenic effects in animal models. Zinc deficiency in the mother during the last trimester of pregnancy has resulted in behavior disorders in the offspring. Severe zinc deficiency in rats can alter brain neurotransmitter levels. Norepinephrine levels can be increased with zinc deficiency. Other neuropsychological symptoms have been seen in humans with severe zinc deficiency.
When discussing mineral deficiencies, it is important to remember the work of Weston Price, who discussed the relationship between mineral metabolism and the fat-soluble vitamins A and D. It is possible to starve for minerals that are abundant in the diet, he said, because of lack of the fat-soluble activators that make mineral utilization possible.4 Iron, for example cannot be utilized without adequate vitamin A. Vitamins A and D are also needed for absorption of the macro-minerals, such as calcium, potassium, sulfur and phosphorus, all of which help protect the body against overload of toxic minerals.
HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCHES
The teenage diet today is a disaster. It usually begins with a high-carbohydrate breakfast. School lunches are not much better and teenagers have access to soft drinks and junk food from vending machines throughout the day. In many families, dinner consists of carryout or convenience foods. No wonder our young people are subject to depression, psychological problems and, in a number of cases, senseless violence.
Yet school lunches can be healthy–and can serve as a model for healthy eating at other meals. A dietary experiment producing dramatic success in teenage athletics, academics and morale over a ten year period in the 1960s at Helix High School in San Diego County, California, has been preserved on video.5 This documentary gives specific recommendations for improving cafeteria lunches, and suggests that the money saved reducing athletic injuries and insurance costs was significant. Also shown is the Georgia school system of over 70 schools that successfully modeled their program after Helix High School.
America’s social degeneration is a complex vicious cycle that will only worsen if our elected officials do not take drastic corrective action with the public food supply and substantially reduce taxes at the national level. Local authorities could remove all junk foods from vending machines in school corridors, and provide only wholesome choices in school cafeterias. It is widely known that a high-protein, nutrient-dense breakfast and lunch will improve academic and athletic performance. Why are the parents and schools not insisting on this? Probably because they really don’t know or believe the lifelong critical importance of wholesome nutrition. Therefore, parents, teachers and children should be educated in depth about the hazard of high sugar, depleted processed foods replacing a balanced diet.
Scientific research provides abundant evidence that a poor prenatal diet, followed by a steady childhood diet of low-nutrient food spawns a whole host of physical defects and diseases, including early-onset osteoporosis, diabetes, coronary occlusion, obesity, acne, dental irregularities and, most important, acute distortions in brain chemistry–bizarre distortions with macabre perceptions that could easily trigger the tragic shootings on our school campuses.
MODERN FOODS THAT CAN CONTRIBUTE TO VIOLENCE
Soy Infant Formula: Very high in manganese against which baby’s immature brain has no protection. High levels of manganese in the brain have been linked to violent criminal tendencies.
Sugar and white flour: Empty carbohydrates. Contribute to “high calorie malnutrition” by providing calories without supporting nutrients the body needs to assimilate those calories.
Cold Breakfast Cereals: The extrusion process creates chaotic protein fragments which can have neurotoxic effects; whole grain extruded products block assimilation of zinc.
Soft drinks: High in phosphoric acid, which causes calcium deficiencies; high in sugar, contributing to “high calorie malnutrition.” Caffeine in soft drinks overstimulates the adrenal glands and can cause nutrient deficiencies.
Coffee and tea: Besides caffeine, coffee and tea contain tannins that interfere with vitamin B1 absorption.
MSG and artificial flavors: Consumption of MSG has been associated with violent behavior.
Trans fatty acids: These imitation fats replace traditional animal fats that provide fat-soluble activators needed for mineral absorption.
Liquid vegetable oils: Invariably very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which inhibit the proper utilization of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for brain function.
TV AND MOVIE VIOLENCE–DOES IT CONTRIBUTE TO TEENAGE VIOLENCE?
Is there a mechanism to explain how violence on television and in the movies might contribute to teenage violence? In fact, there is. Scientists looking at animal behavior have noted that information is transmitted and behavior patterns formed through a process called imprinting. For example, newly hatched geese will follow a human around if they see that human, rather than their mother, during the first few hours after birth. Baby rats receive sexual imprinting through their sense of smell, and will prefer to mate with females who smell like their mothers.
Imprinting can become very resistant to change when it occurs during critical periods of development. For example, the critical period of visual experience for kittens occurs during four to twelve weeks of age. In one study, a group of kittens was exposed only to vertical lines during this period; another group was exposed only to horizontal lines. After five months, well past the critical period of visual development, the kittens behaved as though they could not see lines oriented in the direction in which they had no visual experience. Kittens exposed only to horizontal lines ignored a rod held vertically and shaken, but immediately ran to the rod and played with it when it was held horizontally (Nature, 1970;228:447-8).
Human development is obviously much more complex. Nevertheless, babies seem to go through critical periods during development. If a child does not learn certain sounds before the age of twelve, for example, he may have great difficulty pronouncing them at a later age.
Violence on television or movies– and, even more so, repetitive violence in electronic and computer games– may have very different effects on children going through critical periods of social development than on adults, whose brains are fully matured. When coupled with a deficient diet that prevents optimal mental development, violence imprinted on young minds may have disastrous consequences in later years.
- D Lonsdale and others. Crime and Violence: A Hypothetical Explanation of Its Relationship With High Calorie Malnutrition. Journal of the Advancement of Medicine, Fall 1994;7(3):171-180. Address: Derrick Lonsdale, MD, 24700 Center Ridge Road, Westlake, OH 44145
- JV Dommisse. Subtle Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Psychiatry: A Largely Unnoticed But Devastating Relationship? Medical Hypotheses,1991;34:131-140. Address: John V. Dommisse, M.D, Nutritional, Metabolic & Psychiatric Medicine, 1840 East River Road, Suite 210, Tucson, AZ 85718, 520-577-1940 / 520-577-1743 Fax, John_V_Dommisse_MD@CompuServe.com
- Sandstead, HH. A Brief History of The Influence of Trace Elements on Brain Function. The Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 1986;43:293-298. Address: Harold H Sandstead, MD, Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77550
- W Price. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, 1945, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, San Diego, CA (619) 462-7600
- The video is available from the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (619) 462-7600, info@Price-Pottenger.org
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2002.