It is becoming more widely accepted that a nutritionally deficient diet greatly contributes to ill health.
Less ‘accepted’ is how diet determines behaviour.
Hence I was pleased to read a very well researched article by Sylvia Onusic, PhD (refs 1-2). She objectively analyses how our dietary choices may be largely responsible for the increase in violent behaviour mainly in America among teenagers.
She cites many studies showing how processed foods with their toxic cocktail of mind altering excitotoxins (like MSG, HFCS, aspartame, colourings, etc) are clearly linked to behavioural problems.
These same issues are present in most countries; however in the USA the tendency towards a more processed, nutrient poor diet is especially pronounced.
Let’s look at some specific examples from studies that I believe are well researched and among the most credible available:
- Deficiencies of vitamins A, D, K, B1, B3, B6, B12 and folate, and of minerals iodine, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium and manganese can all contribute to mental instability and violent behaviour
- Vitamin B12 deficiency has a well-known correlation with mental disorders, including irrational anger. A higher incidence of low B12 is found in mental patients than in the general population. Deficiencies can cause poor concentration, depression and severe agitation and even hallucinations.
- Diets deficient in pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) are known to prompt moody behaviours like being very easily upset, irritable, quarrelsome, sullen and depressed.
- Symptoms of pellagra including anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, fatigue, headache, insomnia and hallucinations appear to result largely from a deficiency of vitamin B3.
- Zinc deficiency is linked with angry, aggressive and hostile behaviours which can lead to violence.
- Low levels of folate show up in 40-80% of elderly psychiatric patients. Folate is required for remethylation of homocysteine and hence plays a role in mental health.
- Low levels of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) are associated with increased risk of depression and panic. Natural sun exposure can have a similar effect to the benefits of antidepressants, without the downsides.
- Peaceful, harmonious behaviour among well-nourished humans and cats (!) degenerated into disharmonious behaviour patterns with the change to foods devitalized by heat and processing.
- Omega-3 deficiency is shown to compromises the function of both serotonin and dopamine which is associated with depression and worse. Omega-3 deficiency may also decrease normal blood flow to the brain possibly leading to depression
- Unfermented soy and refined sugars are associated with antisocial behaviour and learning disabilities, hyperactivity, juvenile delinquency and psychiatric related hypoglycaemia.
- Gluten intolerance, leaky gut and niacin deficiency have been linked with psychological disorders especially schizophrenia
…and so the list goes on
All of these examples illustrate the growing recognition of the gut-brain connection: experts suggest that our gut may function like a second brain. It is able to significantly influence mind, mood and behaviour. Think about ‘butterflies in your stomach’!
Repeatedly, researchers are finding that depression and a wide variety of behavioural problems appear to stem from nutritional deficiencies and/or an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in the intestines, not in the brain!
All this mounting evidence is leading Dr Onusic and other experts to conclude that: “We can blame violence on the media and on the breakdown of the home, but 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.”
So we are overweight but undernourished (ref 3), and increasingly stressed, depressed and violent.
So what can we do?
Vote with your fork!
Or, in the words of Dr Onusic: “Modern commentators are blind to the solution, a solution that is in plain sight: clearly defining good nutrition and putting it back into the mouths of our children, starting before they are even conceived...because food is information and that information directly affects your emotions, nervous system, brain and behaviour.”
Please share what you think.