We have all heard about the rising crime rates occurring in the U.S. Our first inclination is to wonder what could be going on in our country to cause this – or at least what is contributing to this disturbing shift of behavior?
“The issues of diet and criminal behavior are limited but intriguing. If you’ve ever found yourself in front of the TV after a bad day, mindlessly digging ice cream out of the container with a spoon, you know that mood and food are sometimes linked. But while stress eating is a verified phenomenon, the relationship between food and actual mood disorders, depression and even behavior needs some attention. Can dietary changes potentially improve our mental health.? What do the studies say?
Scientists looking for answers – Hints of a Link
Before, we jump into the science (research), some basics:
As we all know, our behavior is mostly controlled by our brain. Every organ in the human body requires nutrition to function properly and when it doesn’t get what it needs it functions abnormally. So, is there any reason that the brain should be an exception? The brain is a complex organ so that alone should be enough to assume that if it does not get the proper nutrition, it might just not work as well as it should.
Recent research offers a viewpoint that the brain and the gut “talk to each other” through the presence of the microbiome – the community of microorganisms that lives inside our digestive tract. When this communication channel is “out of whack” or missing essential nutrition, major health problems can crop up in both the mind and body, enabling food sensitivities, allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
“A study indicated that when levels of the brain chemical serotonin decrease from stress or not eating, it affects the brain regions regulating anger, potentially resulting in “a whirlwind of uncontrollable emotions”.
“Prison studies suggest that many inmates have poor blood sugar control, compounded by a high-sugar diet. We all know how it feels when blood sugar drops – we feel moody, foggy. Apply that to someone from a disturbed backgound.”
In a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, Oxford criminologist Bernard Gesch found that giving prison inmates a multivitamin and fatty acid supplement led to violent offenses dropping 37% compared to 10% for those who were given a placebo – findings that were confirmed by a later Dutch study.
“In a large study of prison diets, Stephen Schoenthaler, Professor of Criminology and Sociology at California State University found that prisoner’s eating habits could be used to predict future violent behavior. Normally, past violent behavior is considered the best prediction of future violence. But professor Schoenthaler found that a poor diet is an even better predictor of violent behavior.”
He also found that that in a study of young offenders in California, young adult men receiving vitamin supplements showed a 38% drop in serious behavior problems.
The types of problems associated with poor diet, such as aggression, attention deficits and hyperactivity can make impulsive behavior more likely. Low levels of iron, magnesium and zinc can lead to increased anxiety, low mood, and poor concentration, leading to attention deficits and sleep disturbances. Omega-3 fatty acids, are often deficient in the U.S. diet and needed to improve cognitive functioning.
“No one blames a poor diet as a cause of crime, nor is it the only solution. But if better nutrition in general can bring about a substantial reduction in violent crime in and out of prisons, that would be something to cheer about. For isn’t a good diet, made up of good food, a better and less expensive solution than just hiring more police and building more prisons?”
Needless to say, The Standard American Diet (SAD) needs more attention for all of us, not just in our prison population. Simply, with the input of nutrition scientists, education of the consumer, and cooperation of the food industry, we desperately need more healthy food choices for our personal health and that of our food culture.
Schoenthaler, S.J., Ames, S. Dorax, W., et al (1997)
The effect of randomized vitamin mineral supplementation on violent and non-violent antisocial behavior among incarcerated juveniles. Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, 7:343-352.
The Conversation: Crime and Punishment – the link between food and offending behavior. Hazel Flight, John Marsden, Sean Creaney. 2018
The Guardian. Can Food Make You Angry? Rebecca Hardy. Wed.24 Apr 2013.
C. Bernard Gesch, Sean M. Hammond, Sarah E. Hampson, Anita Eves, and Martin J. Crowder
Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behavior of young adult prisoners. British Journal of Psychiatry 2002, 181, 22-28