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Increase in Violence linked to nutritional deficiencies?

Last year, during the Real Food Summit, one of the presenters (and I can't even remember who, but it was during either the first or second day) made an off hand, unsupported comment about nutrition and the mind that went something like this- when our brain is malnourished, it essentially goes into survival mode and looses the ability to learn new things or accept new ideas.  When I heard it, unsupported as it was, I had an "aha" moment.

From Spring 2013 Wise Traditions.
You see, something has been bothering me now for YEARS.  I thought it was because I am aging, and because as I age I am exposed to more older, seemingly jaded, closed minded people.  But the older I get the more angry people seem.  The conservatives are angry at the liberals, the poor are angry at the rich, the whole food community is angry at "big food" (and in all cases, the opposite is also true).  There is nothing wrong with disagreeing, I obviously believe in productive action in response to phenomenon we don't agree with, and we all know I love a great debate, but I'm talking ANGRY.  I'm right, you're wrong, hate flinging, loosing all ability to reason or communicate, life threatening angry.  And the rise in both large scale public violence (in the last two years in the U.S alone- the theater shooting, the Gabby Giffords shooting, at least two more college shootings, Newtown, and now Boston) and the rise in violence among young people is disconcerting to say the least.  In the same day I witnessed a fight between two men in the middle of the highway that runs through town and saw a news story on increased violent outbursts in the workplace.  And locally, there has been a very tragic and very scary rise in the number of teen suicides, which has been devastating in such a small community... not to mention the horrific Aaron Schaffhausen case.

So when I heard this comment and had this "aha" moment, I instantly connected the rise in violence and the seeming lack of compassion and simple understanding for each other, the loss of the ability to agree to disagree, to nutritional deficiency.  But as much sense as it made to me at the time, the presenter was actually talking about a different topic (I believe, now that I think about it, the topic of the presentation was depleted nutrients in the soil- related, but not directly) and I never looked for any information to back it up- indeed, I didn't know where to look.  So other than a few comments to friends, I have kept this idea to myself until now.

Why now?  Well, I got my newest copy of Wise Traditions, the journal of the Weston A. Price foundation.  The very first title I noticed on the cover was "Violence and Nutrient Deficiencies."  I was like "yes!  finally!"

In a nutshell, we as a country are malnourished, and we don't even know it because we get, more or less, enough macro-nutrients (fat, sugar, carbohydrate).  But because we get most of them from nutrient void processed foods, we are simultaneously eating too much food and not getting enough nutrition- hence simultaneous obesity and malnourishment.  What nutrients are most likely to be deficient?  In a nutshell, almost all the micro-nutrients are at risk, as well as some specific fatty acids and amino acids, but here are some that affect mental health:
  • Vitamin A (preformed vitamin A, which is only found in animal foods, NOT beta carotene, which we at best convert to vitamin A at around 10%)- deficiencies in vitamin A can lead to dopamine receptor hypo-activity, resulting in the typical symptoms of schizophrenia including hallucinatinos, delusions, flat affect, and apathy.
  • Vitamin D- A U.K. study showed that subjects low in D3 are at increased risk of suffering depression and panic.  Vitamin D has been well studied and linked to hormonal function in the body (it is not actually a vitamin, but a hormone).  It is directly related to serotonin production, which affects impulse control and mood.
  • Vitamin K2- less is known about this vitamin, but preliminary studies show that it is an important component of nerves and in forming myelin, which is the protective coating around the nerves that affects how quickly nerves communicate with the brain.
  • B vitamins- holy cow, these are important.  Important to a lot of systems, but especially the brain.  Particularly B1 and B3, but all of them affect the brain and nervous system.  Deficiencies in B3 (Niacin) used to cause fatal pellagra.  Now, due to fortification, fatal pellagra is extremely rare, but what people have forgotten is the symptoms of pellagra- dermatitis, diarrhea, and dementia... and not necessarily in that order.  Therefore, someone with sub-clinical pellagra could be suffering mental symptoms that are simply a product of poor diet, doctors never think to test for it and instead perscribe (harmful) antidepressants or antipsychotics... and the person becomes violent. 
  • Tryptophan- niacin can actually be produced by the body, though... as long as you consume enough tryptophan.  Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can only be obtained from diet, and is most available in raw milk, cheese, meat, eggs, and peanuts.  Tryptophan also affects the serotonin levels in the body.
  • Minerals- especially magnesium, zinc, and iodine.  Magnesium is used in the enzymes of the brain and deficiencies are linked to aggressive behavior and dementia.  Zinc deficiency has been noted in the case of suicide, angry hostile behavior, and behavioral problems such as ADHD.  Iodine is tricky, because we get enough of a type of iodine in iodized salt... however, this form of iodine is problematic because it isn't efficiently used by the body and can actually block absorption of other forms of iodine consumed if you do eat ocean fish or sea vegetables.  Furthermore, mercury blocks the absorption of iodine further.  Iodine deficiency can depress the thyroid, which is directly responsible for regulating hormones and therefore mood.
  • Choline, ARA, and DHA are either neurological transmitters or used in multiple brain functions and structures.  DHA and ARA are very interesting essential fatty acids (they are considered essential because they are vital to body functions and can't be produced in the body... very small amounts of DHA can be made from linoleic acid, but the conversion percentage is extremely small)- they are the only essential fatty acids that cross the placental barrier.  And they can only be obtained from animal foods.
In addition to deficiencies, excesses in the following can cause violent behavior:
  • Copper, which is balance by zinc (so the copper excess is directly relate) in excess has been linked to psychiatric symptoms like extreme fear, paranoia, and hallucinations.
  • Food sensitivities such as celiac disease have also been show to have mental side affects such as blurred vision, anxiety dissorders, hallucinations, panic attacks, and social phobias.
  • MSG has a direct and documented neurological affect on people, and the symptoms can include depression, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, and paranoia.
  • Aspartame can also cause (well documented by the FDA) neurological symptoms such as vertigo, ringing ears, headaches, behavioral disturbances, inflammation of the nerves, and depression.  It has also been linked to brain tumor, epilepsy, and Parkinson's disease (all neurological disorders).
To me it is simultaneously mind blowing and obvious- the way we eat, the way we are feeding our children, is having a huge effect.  Is it the ONLY answer?  Probably not, but changing your family's diet is one manageable way that you can change your children's future.

Most of this information is from the article titled "Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight" by Sylvia Onusic, PhD, CNS, LDN, published in the Spring issue of Wise Traditions.  Similar info, with citations, can be found in this article from way back in 2002 from the WAP website.

On a related note, if you are interested in the topic of nutrient deficiencies there are a few books I suggest just as starting points.  Two are The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure, both by Julia Ross, MD.  They focus on short term amino acid supplementation to correct dietary imbalances, as long as a long term whole foods diet.  The other is The Magnesium Miracle by Dr. Caroline Dean, which goes into depth on magnesium deficiency, it's consequences, and how to reverse it.

And this blog post from Chris Kresser demonstrates the importance of NOT relying on supplements to correct mineral imbalances, but instead getting them from food.  The point of the post is why iodine supplementation is harmful for certain types of hypothyroidism but helpful for others, OR in some cases it is helpful only when taken with selenium... how does this link to food?  Both iodine and selenium are found in the right proportions in most ocean fish.  Concerned about mercury?  Check out this interview...  which is also linked to selenium.

This post has been shared at Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday.

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