All About Vitamin B12

Disclaimer

This fact sheet by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health. Any mention in this publication of a specific product or service, or recommendation from an organization or professional society, does not represent an endorsement by ODS of that product, service, or expert advice.

What is vitamin B12 and what does it do?

Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that helps keep your body’s blood and nerve cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all of your cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a blood condition that makes people tired and weak.

How much vitamin B12 do I need?

The amount of vitamin B12 you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in micrograms (mcg):

Life StageRecommended Amount
Birth to 6 months0.4 mcg
Infants 7–12 months0.5 mcg
Children 1–3 years0.9 mcg
Children 4–8 years1.2 mcg
Children 9–13 years1.8 mcg
Teens 14–18 years2.4 mcg
Adults2.4 mcg
Pregnant teens and women2.6 mcg
Breastfeeding teens and women2.8 mcg

What foods provide vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in a wide variety of animal foods, and manufacturers add it to some fortified foods. Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified. You can get recommended amounts of vitamin B12 by eating a variety of foods including the following:

  • Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and other dairy products contain vitamin B12.
  • Clams and beef liver are some of the best source of vitamin B12.
  • Some breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, and other food products are fortified with vitamin B12.

To find out if a food has added vitamin B12, check the Nutrition Facts label. Manufacturers are not required to list vitamin B12 on the label if a food naturally contains this vitamin.

What kinds of vitamin B12 dietary supplements are available?

Vitamin B12 is available in multivitamin/multimineral supplements, in B-complex supplements, and in supplements containing only vitamin B12. It is usually in a form called cyanocobalamin. Other common forms are adenosylcobalamin, methylcobalamin, and hydroxycobalamin. Vitamin B12 is also available in a form that’s dissolved under your tongue (called sublingual vitamin B12). Research has not shown that any form of supplemental vitamin B12 is better than the others.

The amount of vitamin B12 in supplements varies widely. Some provide doses of vitamin B12 that are much higher than recommended amounts, such as 500 mcg or 1,000 mcg, but your body absorbs only a small percentage of it. These doses are considered safe. Check the Supplement Facts label to see how much vitamin B12 a supplement contains.

A prescription form of vitamin B12 can be given as a shot. This is usually used to treat vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is also available by prescription as a nasal gel that’s sprayed into the nose.

Am I getting enough vitamin B12?

Most people in the United States get enough vitamin B12 from the foods they eat. But some people have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from food. The body absorbs vitamin B12 from food in a two-step process. First, hydrochloric acid in the stomach separates vitamin B12 from the protein that it’s attached to. Second, the freed vitamin B12 then combines with a protein made by the stomach, called intrinsic factor, and the body absorbs them together.

Vitamin B12 in dietary supplements isn’t attached to protein and doesn’t require the first step. However, B12 in supplements does need to combine with intrinsic factor to be absorbed.

People with pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease, can’t make intrinsic factor. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from foods and dietary supplements.

Vitamin B12 deficiency affects between 3% and 43% of older adults. Your doctor can test your vitamin B12 level to see if you have a deficiency.

Certain groups of people may not get enough vitamin B12 or have trouble absorbing it:

  • Many older adults don’t have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach to absorb the vitamin B12 that’s naturally present in food. People over 50 should get most of their vitamin B12 from fortified foods or dietary supplements because, in most cases, their bodies can absorb vitamin B12 from these sources.
  • People with an autoimmune disease called atrophic gastritis might not absorb enough vitamin B12 because they make too little hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor in their stomach.
  • People with pernicious anemia do not make the intrinsic factor needed to absorb vitamin B12. As a result, they have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 from foods and dietary supplements. Doctors usually treat pernicious anemia with vitamin B12 shots, although very high doses of vitamin B12 given by mouth might also be effective.
  • People who have had some types of stomach or intestinal surgery (for example, to lose weight or to remove part or all of the stomach) might not make enough hydrochloric acid and intrinsic factor to absorb vitamin B12.
  • People with disorders of the stomach and small intestine, such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease, might not absorb enough vitamin B12.
  • People who eat little or no animal foods, such as vegetarians and vegans, might not get enough vitamin B12 from their diets. Only animal foods have vitamin B12 naturally. When pregnant women and women who breastfeed their babies are strict vegetarians or vegans, their babies might also not get enough vitamin B12.

What happens if I don’t get enough vitamin B12?

Your body stores 1,000 to 2,000 times as much vitamin B12 as you’d typically eat in a day, so the symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency can take several years to appear.

If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may feel tired or weak. These are symptoms of megaloblastic anemia, which is a hallmark of vitamin B12 deficiency. You might also have pale skin, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, weight loss, and infertility. Your hands and feet might become numb or tingly, a sign of nerve problems. Other symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include problems with balance, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system even in people who don’t have megaloblastic anemia, so it’s important to treat a deficiency as soon as possible.

What are some effects of vitamin B12 on health?

Scientists are studying vitamin B12 to understand how it affects health. Here are several examples of what this research has shown.

Heart disease and stroke
Vitamin B12 supplements (along with other B vitamins) reduce blood levels of homocysteine, a compound linked to an increased risk of having a heart attack or stroke But despite reducing homocysteine, research shows that these vitamins don’t reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease or stroke.

Dementia and cognitive function
Most studies show that low blood levels of vitamin B12 don’t affect the risk of cognitive decline in older people, regardless of whether they have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. More clinical trials are needed to better understand the effects of vitamin B12 supplementation on cognitive function in older adults.

Energy and Endurance
Manufacturers often promote vitamin B12 supplements for energy, athletic performance, and endurance. But vitamin B12 doesn’t provide these benefits in people who get enough B12 from their diet.

Can vitamin B12 be harmful?

Vitamin B12 has not been shown to cause any harm, even at high doses.

Does vitamin B12 interact with medications or other dietary supplements?

Yes. Vitamin B12 supplements can interact or interfere with some medicines that you take. Here are several examples.

Gastric acid inhibitors
People take gastric acid inhibitors to treat certain digestion problems, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and peptic ulcer disease. These drugs can interfere with vitamin B12 absorption from food by slowing the release of hydrochloric acid into the stomach, leading to vitamin B12 deficiency. Gastric acid inhibitors include omeprazole (Prilosec®), lansoprazole (Prevacid®), cimetidine (Tagamet®), and ranitidine (Zantac®).

Vitamin B12 and healthful eating

People should get most of their nutrients from food and beverages, according to the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Foods contain vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other components that benefit health. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements are useful when it is not possible to meet needs for one or more nutrients (for example, during specific life stages such as pregnancy).

A Very Short Guide to Live the Mediterranean Way

How to Live the Mediterranean Way and How to Feed Your Microbiome: Rules to Live By:  

“Each country around the Mediterranean Sea offers a rich bounty of delicious ingredients. Many authors have written about the Mediterranean Diet in terms of the health benefits that have been shown by an exhaustive array of scientific studies on its merits. The diet is now recognized as an “intangible cultural heritage” in Italy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a way of life and a way of eating, which the Italians call “Cucina genuine” or “cuisine of the poor”.  This is the diet of those who work the land and feed themselves using seasonal ingredients grown in their small plots outside the kitchen”.

The following characteristics attempt to describe the “Americanized” version of how to live and eat the Mediterranean way – it is not just a diet but a gift to a healthier lifestyle.”

DIET: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (Michael Pollan). Whole grains, unprocessed foods, fruits, and vegetables. It is not a diet but a lifestyle.

Eat meat in moderation. Limit your saturated fat, sugar and salt intake. Snack on nuts. Reduces inflammatory foods

Practice mindfulness, smaller servings, early light dinners.

Try yogurt, beans, chickpeas (hummus (fermentable foods) like sauerkraut – gives us a diverse microenvironment

Maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) 19.0 – 25.0

Drink plenty of water

EXERCISE:

Take a walk. Enjoy the sunshine.

Stay active. Get gardening.

Exercise improves cognition and stress reduction

BEHAVIORAL, SOCIAL

1-2 Glasses of red wine (daily): Optional (if you don’t drink wine, don’t start) 

Have a purpose in life (a reason to get up in the morning).

Laugh with friends.

Keep your brain active (read, puzzles, learn a language) card games

Focus on family, God, camaraderie, nature

Reduce stress and avoid eating when angry or sad.

Enjoy the secret pleasures and social aspect of foods.  Become more expert at listening to your gut feelings. (mind/body).  

Citations: 

Diane Phillps, The Mediterranean Slow Cooker Cookbook, Chronicle Books, 2012.

Emeran Mayer, MD. The Mind-Gut Connection, Harper Collins, 2016.

Dan Buettner The Blue Zones Challenge, National Geographic, 2021.

All about omega-3 fats and the Brain : Source: Medical News Today

The following study presents an interesting connection between omega-3 fats, brain function and cognitive decline.

Erica Watts, Oct 7, 2022

Fact Checked by Alexandra Sanfins, PhD.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have many benefits and play a role in heart health and cognitive functioning.
  • A new study demonstrates that there may be a connection between consuming omega-3 and an increase in brain functioning for people in midlife.
  • The cross-sectional study analyzed the omega-3 blood levels of people in their midlife and assessed their MRIs and thinking skills to see whether there was a difference in people with higher or lower omega-3 levels.

“According to the new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people who have higher omega-3 levels in their middle ages may have an edge over people who take in lower levels of omega-3.

The study was led by researchers at the University of Texas Health at San Antonio, TX, who were concerned about the lack of research on how omega-3 can impact people in their midlife.

Omega-3: Things to know

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH)Trusted Source, omega-3 fatty acids “are a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body.” In addition to playing a role in heart health and cognitive functioning, omega-3 fatty acids are also part of the cell membraneTrusted Source and affect cell functioning.

As Professor Stuart Phillips noted during a Live Long and Master Aging podcast, “Some fats that we ingest, and particularly the omega-3 or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are actually what we refer to as essential fats. We need to have them in our diet because we don’t have the ability to make them ourselves.”

Prof. Phillips is the director of the Physical Activity Center of Excellence at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

The NIHTrusted Source lists three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)..

While people can take omega-3 supplements, it is also in a number of foods. Some good sources of omega-3 include fish (such as salmon and tuna) nuts and seeds (chia seeds and flax seeds).

Studying Omega-3’s effect

The researchers studied 2,183 men and women with an average age of 46. They excluded people who had dementia or a history of having a stroke from their participant pool.

Omega-3s are present in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a role in learning and memory, and a reduction in the volume can point to possible dementiaTrusted Source.

The participants also underwent a neurological assessment. The tests measured the participants’ abstract thinking, processing speed, executive function, and delayed episodic memory.

Omega-3 and brain health 

Using blood samples, the researchers analyzed the fatty acid composition (omega-3’s) of each participant. The participants also consented to having their brains scanned using MRI technology. The researchers were also interested in the volumes of gray and white matter.

The researchers placed approximately 25% of the participants in the low group where the participants had omega-3 fatty acids blood levels falling under 4%. This group had an average count of 3.4%.

The rest of the participants were put into the high group; their average omega-3 level was 5.2%.

Comparing the blood samples, MRI results, and neurological assessments, the study authors determined that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids correlate to a higher hippocampus volume and better abstract reasoning.

Researchers observed that the people in the high group also had higher gray matter volumes, better reading scores, and slightly higher logical reasoning scores.

In contrast, the people in the low group tended to be less likely to have a college degree and more likely to be smokers and have diabetes compared to the higher group.

“This exploratory study suggests that higher [omega-3 blood levels] are associated with larger hippocampal volumes and better performance in abstract reasoning, even in cognitively healthy middle-aged adults from the community, suggesting a possible role in improving cognitive resilience,” write the authors.

“These results need to be confirmed with additional research, but it’s exciting that omega-3 levels could play a role in improving cognitive resilience, even in middle-aged people,” said study author Prof. Claudia L. Satizabal, Ph.D.

Prof. Satizabal is an assistant professor at the Department of Population Health Sciences at UT Health San Antonio, TX.

Diet and brain health 

The authors noted that other researchers have conducted similar studies in older populations but believe that it is necessary to see what impacts omega-3 supplements have on people in their midlife because they start experiencing cognitive decline.

According to the authors, “One of the main challenges for some of these studies may be that dietary interventions are carried out perhaps too late for significant improvements in symptomatic participants, as cognitive changes may be well established over the previous 15 to 20 years.”

“Improving our diet is one way to promote our brain health. If people could improve their cognitive resilience and potentially ward off dementia with some simple changes to their diet, that could have a large impact on public health.”

– Prof. Satizabal

Dr. Natalie King, a neuroscientist and founder of Florae Beauty, not involved in the study, spoke with Medical News Today and discussed the importance of diets on brain health.

“Everything we do and consume affects our brain, and there have been numerous studies, including the one shared, that highlight the effects of food and drink on overall brain health and function,” said Dr. King.

“Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have been found to be beneficial when it comes to improving mental function as well as supporting an overall wellness plan when considering disease pathologies like mood disorders and others affecting learning and memory,” Dr. King continued.”

Until we know how much omega-3 fats are needed to improve optimal brain function in the meantime, adequate EPA and DHA dosage is often obtained by consuming 8 ounces of fatty fish weekly. Deep fried fish have been found to be a poorer source of EPA and DHA than baked or broiled fish. The top sources include: salmon, farmed and wild, anchovies, herring, whitefish, mackerel, and sardines. Tuna (light) canned in oil only provides lower amounts.

Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th Edition.

Supplements are plentiful on the market; however, consult your physician for dosage and any conflicts with other medications such as blood thinners. It is important to remember that dietary supplements are produced and marketed with few regulations as to safety, quality or efficacy.

Omega 3 Fats and Cognition

In 2016 a large study confirmed findings from 21 cohort studies (181,000 people)that supported that fish consumption was protective against the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and recommended “fishery products” for a lower risk of cognitive impairment.

Source: Y. Zhang, et al., “Intakes of Fish and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Mild-to-Severe Cognitive Impairment Risks: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of 21 Cohort Studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 103, no 2 (2016):330-40.

CLICK HERE.

Ultra- Processed Foods and Cognition

In a study of 105, 159 adults over a period of 5 years, it was found that “even a 10% increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, the development of some cancers, and type 2 diabetes. In addition, some increased exposure to harmful chemicals from food packages was reported.” Source: Medical News Today, 2019.

CLICK HERE.

Phytochemicals in Foods

Phytochemicals Include hundreds of biologically active nonnutritive chemicals found primarily in plants. Most plant chemicals are for plant protection; however, others are known for their human health promoting properties.

The phytochemicals in our diet protect our health in a variety of ways. Some are carotenoids or antioxidants; others provide benefits because they mimic the structures like those found naturally in the body. For example, phytoestrogens such as those found in soy are called phytoestrogens; others are called phytosterols mimicking estrogen and cholesterol functions.

Some stimulate the body’s natural defenses. Indoles, and isothiocyanates found in broccoli stimulate the activity of enzymes that help deactivate carcinogens. Others are health promoting because they can alter the way in which cells communicate, and affect DNA repair mechanisms.

How to Choose Phytochemicals
Choose a few colors of fruits and vegetables each day to look for any recipes found to be appealing.
Spice up food with herbs and spices.
Add vegetables to sauces and casseroles.
Try baked or dried fruit for dessert.
Double your typical serving of vegetables.
Add pesto, spinach, or artichoke hearts to pizza.
Buy jars of chopped garlic, ginger, and basil and add to cooking.
Add barley to casseroles or stews.
Add fruit to cereal or vegetables to eggs.
Dice up some tofu and add it to stir fries.
Include nuts to baked goods or salads.
 Sprinkle flax seed on oatmeal.    
B

Bon appetit!!!

Fruit and Vegetables: Disease Fighters!

Phytochemicals: What They Do for Health?

Cruciferous Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There are many studies that even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern.  There is some extensive research that reports that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, an anticancer phytochemical named isothiocyanates fights breast cancer in particular. By the way, use the stalks and leafy greenss from the plant since they also contain a good amount of nutrients.

Anthocyanins

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables . They can lower blood cholesterol.  One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Other Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Lycopene in tomatoes has been reported to fight prostate cancer.

Benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. All fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, but certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts. All work together so it’s best to consume them that way and in their natural forms.

Phytochemicals: What Do They Do for Health.

Cruciferous Vegetables

You can’t go wrong with increasing your intake of plants from the Brassica family – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. There are many studies that even help to prevent cancer and heart disease. What makes them so powerful?  They are high in dietary fiber, polyphenols (phytochemicals) and provide over 40 phenolic compounds labeled “cruciferous” meaning their leaves grow in a cross-pattern.  There is some extensive research that reports that cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, an anticancer phytochemical named isothiocyanates fights breast cancer in particular.

Anthocyanins

The red color of many cruciferous vegetables is significant. Anthocyanins are pigments that cause the red and purple coloring of many kales, cabbage, and other colorful vegetables. They can lower blood cholesterol.  One study found that healthy volunteers a fed a beverage of primarily broccoli and cabbage two times a day for three weeks showed a significant decrease in the so-called ‘bad” cholesterol, LDL. Follow up studies produced the same results.

What Other Foods Lower Blood Pressure? One important group is those who contain polyphenols – such as berries. They are a large family of phytochemicals particularly in cardiovascular health. Their benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood vessel dilating properties, and immune system functions. Certain ones like berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes contain especially high amounts. However, all work in synergy so try to combine them together as much as possible. This action is what makes a plant-based diet easier to follow.

Source: Judith E. Brown Nutrition Now, 7th Edition

Cognitive Fitness and Diet

Eat Right to Maintain Cognitive Fitness

Your brain is fed by the same blood vessels that keep your heart pumping – so it makes sense that when they become unhealthy or your blood pressure is too high, the damage can affect both your heart and mind.

So what foods are heart healthy are also brain healthy? Two diets that have gained positive attention are elements of the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet have been shown by a plethora of research to help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It is thought that these two dietary patterns help the brain by keeping blood flowing efficiently and reducing damaging inflammation. Both are low in saturated fat and recommend a diet heavy on plant foods and healthy fats with a low consumption of red meat, sugar, and processed foods.

There are certain components of healthy diets that can be top choices on what makes these diets stand out with healthy benefits:  

Omega-3 fatty Fish Oils and Brain Health

Protecting Brain Structure: Myelin

The BASICS:  Most all cells contain omega3s (EPA, DHA) and omega-6s in their cell membranes. Most nerve signals cannot be conducted without a special sheath called myelin and fatty  acids like EPA and DHA are necessary for cell membrane structure.  Myelin insulates the nerve fibers of nerve cells.

Brain cells are susceptible to damaging neurotoxins. Long-chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA are important for brain development, production of hormones and checking inflammation. Research has also shown that they lower blood triglyceride levels resulting in decreasing cardiovascular risks.  A  meta-analysis found that people with the highest consumption of omega-3, EPA and DHA have an association with a 14% risk reduction of death from any cause when compared to people who consume less.  A new area of research has suggested that fish oils as EPA and DHA are involved in brain health. This is important since there is evidence that omega-3s can protect against neurotoxins that damage the nervous system including the brain.

For example:

1300 elderly women underwent MRIs of the brain to assess how much exposure they had to a type of air pollution called PM for three years prior to the MRI.  PM  pollution is known to have neurotoxic effects known to be linked to strokes, cognitive decline, and dementia. The new study was published in the journal, Neurology,

Results showed that “women with higher levels blood levels of fish oils (omega-3s) had significantly greater volumes in the brain areas (hippocampus) associated with cognition, and memory, and white matter which contains nerve fibers that connect brain cells. The results indicated that women with higher levels of omega-3s were protected against the brain-damaging effects of PM exposure”.

Improved Depression Symptoms

A meta-analysis published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers reported that relatively high dose supplements with a high concentration of EPA to DHA significantly improved the symptoms of mild to moderate depression (mood, sleep disturbances, and fatigue) in pregnant and postpartum women. Higher doses need to be given by primary care physicians.

The U.S. diet is sadly abundant in omega-6 fatty acids; however, on the other hand, sadly deficient in omega-3 fats —-but that’s another story.

Omega-3 fats contain antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage including the heart and brain. A study published in the June 2020 issue of Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean Diet had a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment in the following 10 years, compared with those who did not follow that eating pattern. But people who ate the most fish had both a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and also slower cognitive decline when compared to those who ate less fish.

Plant Oils

Substituting healthy plant oils like olive oil, sesame oil or canola oil for saturated fat such as butter, helps keep your mind healthy. These simple changes help to keep your blood vessels clear of damaging plaques. Extra-virgin olive oil is particularly rich in antioxidants.

Nuts

Nuts are great as snacks since they are rich in fiber and protein.  The least processed are the best choice.

Some nuts like walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts, contain high amounts of antioxidants. Also, walnuts are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fats called alpha linolenic acid which helps fight inflammation and cellular damage.

Coffee

While not a part of the Mediterranean or DASH diets, plain coffee can provide a good source of antioxidants. However don’t over do it and hold the sugar and cream – two cups a day of black coffee is probably enough, research says.

Courtesy of Best Foods for Women’s Health, Women’s Health Guide, Harvard Medical School

Crime and Nourishment???

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