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Does Poor Nutrition Lead to Mental Instability and Violent Behavior?


A report published in the Spring 2013 issue of Wise Traditions, a journal from the Weston A. Price Foundation, suggests that a deficiency in several essential nutrients can be contributing factors to violent behavior. Is there scientific evidence to back this up?

Despite our obesity epidemic, many of us are technically undernourished. We eat too many calories that are void of the essential nutrients we need every day for optimal body function. Sylvia Onusic PhD CNS LDN says “The fact is that a large number of Americans, living mostly on devitalized processed food, are suffering from malnutrition. In many cases, this means their brains are starving.”

In Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight, Dr. Onusic says that doctors are seeing a return of nutritional deficiencies thought to be eradicated decades ago. These include scurvy and pellagra, two conditions known to lead to brain tissue injury.

Scurvy is a disease caused by a diet that lacks vitamin C. It was once associated with sailors in the 16th to 18th centuries who navigated long voyages without access to vitamin-C rich foods, especially perishable produce. Today, scurvy is rare in the US, but it could occur in elderly patients, alcoholics or those that live on a diet devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables. Symptoms include bleeding of the gums, loosened teeth, petechial hemorrhage of the skin and mucous membranes, and sicca syndrome – an autoimmune disease affecting connective tissue.

Women who do not get enough vitamin C during pregnancy can have babies whose brains do not develop properly. Even marginal vitamin C deficiency, says Dr. Jens Lykkesfeldt of the University of Copenhagen, stunts growth in the fetal hippocampus, an important memory center. Those with poor economic status (who eat poorly) and those who smoke are at greatest risk for children born with damage that can lead to learning problems.

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Pellagra is a disease that occurs when a person does not get enough niacin, one of the B-complex vitamins, or tryptophan, an amino acid. Symptoms include mental confusion (marked by anxiety, depression, and hallucinations), inflamed mucus membranes, and scaly skin sores.

Other vitamins and minerals that are linked to brain health include:
• Vitamin A – critical to brain development and cognitive function. Deficiency can lead to dopamine receptor hypo-activity and typical symptoms of schizophrenia.
• Vitamin D – involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood.
• Thiamine (Vitamin B1) – directly affects the hypothalamus which is the seat of impulse control.
• Vitamin B6 – another mood-regulating vitamin and a modulator of homocysteine levels.
• Vitamin B12 – deficiency is associated with irrational anger.
• Magnesium – used in hundreds of brain enzymes. Low levels are related to many neurological conditions, including aggressive behavior.
• Iodine – essential for the development of a healthy brain.
• Zinc – many brain enzymatic reactions depend on this mineral and deficiency is linked to angry, aggressive and hostile behaviors.

Keep in mind that most of these associations between lack of nutrients and violent behavior are due to severe deficiency. Not eating five servings of fruits and vegetables is not going to make you run out with a gun to shoot someone. But the research does emphasize the essentiality of adopting a healthful diet, full of whole foods that are rich in all of the essential vitamins and minerals that we need, not only for yourself, but for future generations.

A better focus on healthful meals and less reliance on nutrient-void packaged foods that contain non-essential (and sometimes dangerous) additives can most certainly add to your overall physical and mental well-being.

The Weston A. Price Foundation (April 2013)
University of Copenhagen

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