In the wake of the Newtown shootings, we are becoming more keenly aware of the disgruntled and angry spirits in our midst. While anger is an emotion we all share from time to time, the Newtown shooting made us very aware that when this level of brooding and hostility is unchecked, it can manifest in the darkest and most horrific ways.
As a society, we are starting to look more closely at limiting a person’s expressions of homicidal thoughts by limiting gun access. As a naturopathic doctor, the shooting has made me think more closely about the possible underlying factors contributing to the development of this type of hatred. As a society, we need to start asking the questions: what factors can influence a person’s hostility and how can we recognize and start changing these earlier?
With kids we are concerned about, typically children exhibit some anti-social behavior, are overly ‘to themselves’, or even perform ‘minor’ acts of violence (such as torturing small animals). While most children who exhibit some of these traits do not go necessarily go on to become mass murderers, it is important to address holistically the reasons for this behavior. From a naturopathic perspective, it is important to address stressors, parenting strategies, sleep problems, excess TV (see my blog Your Unhappy Brain on TV), exercise (usually a lack of it), blood sugar dysregulation, and nutrient deficiency in order to fully help a child move this this time.
Nutrition to the Rescue?
Proper nutrition seems to play a strong role in brain function, and proper psychological development. The World Health Organization studied a number of correctional facilities for children and found that when kids received proper protein and fats in healthful ratio to starches and sugars, violence and anti-social behavior was cut in half.
An interesting article looking at vitamins also showed very promising results in a Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine study from the year 2000. In this evaluations, the researchers used a very rigorous type of scientific study (called a stratified randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial) to look at whether giving kids vitamins could help change the course of their behavior.
The study looked at 468 kids from age 6 to 12 years of age, and gave half of these kids 50% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins. For any of you reading this who believe in the value of vitamins, you probably know that the RDA set by the government is the minimal amount needed of a particular vitamin to prevent an overt disease. Research has shown that in many cases, the RDA is not actually the optimal amount a person should have. In many cases, the optimal amount should be much higher (for example, the RDA of vitamin D is 600iu for adults, but when we look at the vitamin D levels of patients with various health issues, many experience better health with doses in the range of 1000iu to 2000iu a day, or even higher).
Anyway, what this research showed was that kids who took the vitamins had almost a 50% drop in antisocial behavior, and had much lower rates of vandalism, disrespectful behavior, acting disorderly, making threats, fighting with others, speaking obscenities, defiance and refusing to work as well as causing others to be in danger.
A second trial also found that kids taking vitamins also had significant improvements in non-verbal intelligence when kids were adequately nourished. Because this type of intelligence is closely tied to how well kids do in school, the authors suggested that the kids who eat poorly are at a disadvantage for doing well in school, and in life.
Feed Our Children Well
As a parent of a 5 year-old, I am always excited to expand the healthy and whole food choices in my daughter’s diet. I become equally as dismayed to see how our society is more and more allowing our young children to cultivate their palates for sugary foods, chicken nuggets, french fries, juices and soda - at the expense of real food: vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein sources like fish. In 2005, a New England Journal of Medicine article proclaimed for the first time that children born in that year would have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. I think the processed and nutrient-depleted foods we giving are kids are a big part of this problem. Poor nutrition early sets up for obesity, early onset of type II diabetes, full body inflammation, as well as behavior and brain problems.
While vitamins may be a reasonable way to help increase intelligence and decrease aggressive behavior, vitamins and supplements are still no replacement for good food and healthy digestion. Creating a plan to insure healthy meals, vitamins and nutrition education for our kids should all be a part of a prevention strategy for these expressions of anger.
About Dr. Bongiorno: Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc is co-director of Inner Source Health in New York, and author of How Come They're Happy and I'm Not? The complete naturopathic guide to healing depression for good. More about him can be found through www.drpeterbongiorno.com.
Schoenthaler SJ, Bier ID. The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on juvenile delinquency among American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Feb;6(1):7-17.
Schoenthaler SJ, Bier ID, Young K, Nichols D, Jansenns S. The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on the intelligence of American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2000 Feb;6(1):19-29.
Olshansky SJ, Passaro DJ, Hershow RC, Layden J, Carnes BA, Brody J, Hayflick L, Butler RN, Allison DB, Ludwig DS. A potential decline in life expectancy in the United States in the 21st century. N Engl J Med. 2005 Mar 17;352(11):1138-45.