malnutrition and crime

Malnutrition and Crime

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As long ago as 1984, Alex Schauss published his research on the relationship of malnutrition and criminal activity. In a recent e mail, in reply to my contact with him, he told me that impulse control in adolescent criminals was extremely poor. He said that “time after time a young criminal would say that he wished that he had not committed the crime”. Many years ago there was a probation officer in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She had persuaded a local judge to bind over to her the all too many adolescent criminals, whose diet she supervised. The recidivism dropped virtually to zero. More recently, 1805 college students were examined for their perception of stress. Severe perceived stress was associated with worse academic achievement, poor physical health and higher rates of psychiatric and impulsive disorders. Some people may remember the Feingold diet. The author claimed that learning disabilities were linked to artificial food flavors and coloring. Social phobia and violent behavior are both important mental health problems among adolescent populations in different parts of the world. Variables associated with social phobia with homicidal thoughts, an impulse to hit known and unknown persons and the wish to take revenge for past offense, were reported by the authors. Suicidal ideation throughout lifetime and life prevalence of suicidal attempt were noted. Although aggression and violence have been increasingly viewed as a major public health problem with a biological and health basis, it has been under-researched in the nursing and health context. It has been stated that it is necessary to develop a new body of knowledge that may lead to more effective prevention programs for violence.

An article in Japanese has been translated into English. A study of rats found that aspects of their emotional behavior associated with muricide (mouse killing) was induced by thiamine deficiency. The killer-rats did not eat the dead mouse and seemed to bite at random into any body region of their victim. They did not bite inanimate objects such as nails or chalk. The observed chemical changes in the brain were reversed to control levels with intraperitoneal administration of thiamine. More in keeping with human behavior, a review reported a sociological study of sports fans and their violent behavior. The authors stated that this is a worldwide social problem that is quite understudied. The article reviews the fragmented literature on alcohol use and violent behavior. Several medical disorders rarely cause violent behavior. When they do so it is dramatic because the violence and other bizarre behaviors are not in keeping with the premorbid picture of the individual.

Violence and Nutrition

Several controlled trials using omega-3 fatty acids, combined with  micronutrients, show sizable reductions in aggressive, antisocial and violent behavior in youth and young adult prisoners. Research on the effects of hypercaloric dietary manipulations across the lifespan on emotion regulation and the neurobiological mechanisms that underpin these processes has been published. There may be early-life windows of vulnerability for developing anxiety in later life due to the augmented effects of poor diets on neuroendocrine stress systems and the maturation of neural circuitry supporting emotion regulation. A patient with dementia due to  B-12 deficiency and syphilis presented to a forensic hospital after killing his ex-wife with a gun. Despite current awareness of the occurrence of aggression and violence in patients with dementia, there has not been a report discussing it secondary to an infectious or nutritional origin causing homicide or severe violent behavior . A long list of psychiatrically inclined illnesses or symptoms, especially some cases of mood disorder, dementia, paranoid psychoses and violent behavior have been documented because of vitamin B12 deficiency. Criminologists in the United Kingdom have classified the common type of crimes committed in poorer parts of cities as a disease. It has given rise to the paradox of a criminal accusing a physician that he is the cause of the crime “because you did not cure my disease”.

Impulse Control and Diet

I offer an example of criminal behavior and its association with poor nutrition from my personal experience. One day, the public defender in Cleveland called me concerning the perpetration of a poorly executed robbery committed by a young African-American who at the time of the crime was acting as a night guard of some company premises. At 8 o’clock in the morning he had entered a package store, showed his gun to the man with the cash register and received a paltry $20. He then strolled out of the store, was quickly arrested by police and confessed his crime. The public defender was puzzled because this young man came from a good family and had no history of bad behavior or criminality. He suspected some form of mental disease and put together some money to pay for any studies that I proposed to try to provide support for his contention. Without going into details, studies of his urine revealed gross abnormalities associated with biochemical changes in brain metabolism. Questioning the young man revealed that his diet was appalling, loaded with soft drinks and alcohol. He was provided with nutritional supplements, given dietary instruction and was examined a year later when the abnormalities in his urine had disappeared. He was then at a community college, studying for a future job. The public defender requested a local judge to permit him to plead temporary insanity at the time of his crime, a legal defense in the state of Ohio. The request was denied by the High Court of Ohio and the young man had to serve a jail sentence from which he could easily have emerged as a hardened criminal.

It is agreed that this example does not compare with the hideous nature of multiple school shootings and the vicarious murders that have plagued America in the last decades. It does, however, suggest poor impulse control as a potential for committing a senseless crime. In the cultural atmosphere that exists today, I can imagine a young person receiving a minor reprimand from a teacher in school. Perhaps it becomes a sore point that he nurses, even growing into hating humanity as a whole, exploding into violence because of poor impulse control. Unfortunately, each case dominates television where the young criminal becomes a central figure that may well lead to copycatting by others. There is almost always discussion on “motive”, whereas the act is probably a relatively primitive loss of impulse control. The simplest research that could be done, would be to ask a surviving school shooter about his diet and lifestyle, subjects that never seem to be a point of query. Social phobia, homicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation were discussed above.

The perpetrator of gun crime often commits suicide on completion of his crime. The report on thiamine deficient rats with muricidal behavior points to relatively important damaged brain chemistry as a source of unpredictable and otherwise incomprehensible behavior. Ingestion of alcohol and its association with violent behavior has been discussed above . The consumption of alcohol induced thiamine deficiency is well known, strongly suggesting that thiamine deficiency is the basic cause of the loss of impulse control so commonly observed in groups indulging in alcoholic binges. The effects of thiamine deficiency in brain are complex and are still poorly understood. However, together with the other members of the B complex and magnesium, it stands astride the entry of glucose into the chemical machinery that synthesizes energy. Perhaps the degree of thiamine deficiency or its patchy distribution makes a variable degree of energy deficiency in the affected cells, explaining the multitude of symptoms that can develop. That is why I have proposed that beriberi, in causing its accepted clinical manifestations, is the great imitator of many different diseases.

If it could be shown that the perpetrator of a school shooting, for example, was thiamine deficient, perhaps this hypothesis might result in a better understanding of this terrible repetitive crime. Since it has long been known that an excess of sugar can overwhelm the chemical machinery of energy metabolism, it makes the widespread ingestion of empty simple carbohydrate calories a potential culprit. It even would make sense of the Feingold diet. Food dyes  are used in many simple carbohydrate items consumed  by both children and adults at social gatherings and are often referred to as “goodies”. Sensory mechanisms on the tongue initiate a signal to the pleasure perceiving centers in the brain, explaining the addictive nature of sugar. It probably suggests that the use of chemical sweeteners have the same effect as sugar. When  complaints were registered that Nutrasweet was responsible for  migraine headaches, the Nutrasweet company did an experiment that was claimed to show that there was no connection. However, the sweetener was given to the experimental subjects in capsules that they swallowed, thus obviating the taste signal to the brain. It missed the point.

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Image by Linus Schütz from Pixabay.

Derrick Lonsdale M.D., is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition (FACN), Fellow of the American College for Advancement in Medicine (FACAM). Though now retired, Dr. Lonsdale was a practitioner in pediatrics at the Cleveland Clinic for 20 years and was Head of the Section of Biochemical Genetics at the Clinic. In 1982, Lonsdale joined the Preventive Medicine Group to specialize in nutrient-based therapy. Dr. Lonsdale has written over 100 published papers and the conclusions support the idea that healing comes from the body itself rather than from external medical interventions.


  1. Had you by any chance been treated before your health started to decline with a fluoroquinolone antibiotic such as Cipro or Levaquin as your symptoms sound like those of Fluoroquinolone Toxicity. Some people who have this test for high vit B12.

  2. Dr. Lonsdale,

    After studying your forums and reading your most recent book, I am enlightened about your discoveries with thiamine. I’m writing to seek suggestions for what I can do/who I may consult for debilitating health conditions I have struggled with over the past five years. While most of my life I have had odd health issues, namely with my digestion and anorexia. At the age of 18, I was tested for an assortment of issues—but in the end, was said to have “anxiety.” At the time, I started reading about nutrition, began eating a natural food diet and became significantly better. I even ran marathons and felt good overall, so as long as I kept my diet simple and balanced.

    Over the last five years, my health degraded significantly. My symptoms began with a persistent eye twitch followed by pain in my lower legs and feet that made it unbearable to walk. I also had headaches, severe anxiety, numbness/tingles/pain in my hands and elbows, and then tremors. The battery of tests conducted did not provide evidence for anything wrong. Physicians often commented on how good my B12 levels were (always elevated above range). My folate too tends to run high (despite having a homozygous MTHFR mutation).

    A doctor recommended I take a methylated B vitamin (Methyl Guard) for the mutation. After 24 hours of taking one, I developed a fever, sweats, nausea and pain so severe it felt like every nerve in my body was on fire. Looking back, the vitamin did not contain B1—only vitamins B2, B5, B6, B9, and B12. It took me several weeks to feel somewhat better after this vitamin, but recovery was slow and difficult.

    I have recently been diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) due to high histamine levels (whole blood 2180nmol/L with a reference range of 180-1800, plasma histamine 7.7 ng/ml with a reference range of 1.8 or below). This diagnosis was made after observed how my body reacts to everything I eat, touch, or do. Vibrations, sunlight, walking/exercising, eating, driving, and showers—they all cause me painful neuropathy and tremors, especially in my hands and feet. When I eat, my bod often shakes. I especially have difficulty tolerating foods like chicken and beef 30 minutes after eating them. But, really, I have neuropathy with just about everything I eat, even something as simple as celery or carrots.

    I recently tried a small amount of B1 25mg for a few days along with magnesium. My neuropathy worsened, I became fatigued, and I felt compulsive anxiety. It magnified my symptoms and I couldn’t function well at all. I would like to take a multivitamin, but after the horrible experience I had in the past, I’m scared of doing so. Perhaps B1 isn’t for me, but as I trace my symptoms over time, and the kinds of foods I ate (while natural, they were more plant-based—I have never eaten many high thiamine foods), I am inclined to think thiamine may be part of my issue. Yet, I cannot seem to find a doctor willing to help me with this. Even integrative medicine doctors with whom I have consulted focus on B12 and folate, but disregard B1. Are there practitioners/places you recommend I pursue for help? I’d greatly appreciate your suggestions.

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