Data Shows That Nutrients Reduce Aggression: Why is Policy Not Changing?

Julia Rucklidge, PhDBonnie Kaplan, PhD
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A study just published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology was a timely reminder that there is ample evidence that nutrients can be used to reduce aggression and violence in children who are prone to such behaviours. The new study reaffirmed what we already know. Actually, the benefit of using nutrients to reduce violence has been known since the 1990s, so this is really nothing new. In fact, we wondered whether it was even worth blogging about it, given that there have already been five randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that have shown nutrients can successfully reduce aggression and violent incidents across a range of populations from delinquent children to adults in prison.1 2 3 4 5

But we decided it is worth talking about this new study as it is a timely reminder of the huge challenge we face in this field: despite study after study after study showing the same thing — that there is a simple, cheap solution to reducing aggression in many people — the message hasn’t carried through to changing policies or treatment approaches. Until that happens and nutrients become part of the mainstream publicly funded approaches to addressing these problems, we need to keep writing.

So what did this new study find? Hambly and colleagues administered a micronutrient treatment for 16 weeks to 32 children aged 4-14 who displayed ongoing violent and aggressive behaviour. Eighty four percent of the children were identified as having “very elevated” aggression. It wasn’t a blinded trial and so everyone knew what the kids were receiving. The nutrients chosen were based on knowledge of biochemistry and the nutrients known to be essential for combating oxidative stress, improving neurotransmitter synthesis and glucose metabolism. More specifically, the researchers identify elevated copper relative to zinc as playing an important role in the expression of aggression. They explain that when there is a deficiency in zinc, copper accumulates, leading to a variety of challenges including hyperactivity, inattention, violence and mood problems.

Prior to the initiation of the treatment, the researchers showed that on average the children had an elevated copper to zinc ratio, confirming their expectation that it would be higher in this group. Interestingly, they also found that reduction in aggression was associated with an improvement in the copper to zinc ratio suggesting that lowering copper relative to zinc may be essential for a clinical response.

The effects on their outcome measures were large — the number of children identified as having “very elevated aggression” shifted from 84% to 32% of the sample. Thirty-five percent were now in the normal range. The rest were now mild to moderate. There were also improvements across all areas of aggression, including verbal and physical. Quality of life improved as did family functioning. They also showed that the longer the kids stayed on the micronutrient treatment, the better the outcome.

And just like many of our studies and those of others using nutrients, there were no identified side effects and a very low dropout (1 participant).

Violence is a huge problem not only in prisons. In Christchurch where Julia lives, there has been an increasing problem of violence towards staff in psychiatric inpatient units. However, rather than address the problem with improving the nutrient intake of these most vulnerable people (no possibility of harm and it might even make things better), the district health board reacted by using sedating drugs and hiring more guards. One would understand reluctance to use nutrients if there was no evidence but there is, so what is holding them back? Based on published research, even starting with reduction of sugar would have a good impact. 6 7

What do you think: if a drug were shown to reduce aggression with no side effects, would it be ignored?

Not all of our blogs are open for comments, but we are asking that this one be open so that anyone who has constructive suggestions for how to translate the existing data into policy changes can offer their ideas here.

Show 7 footnotes

  1. Gesch, B., Hammond, S., Hampson, S., Eves, A., & Crowder, M. J. (2002). Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners. British Journal of Psychiatry, 181, 22-28.
  2. Schoenthaler, S. J., Amos, S., Doraz, W., Kelly, M. A., Muedeking, G., & Wakefield Jr, J. (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(4), 343-352.
  3. Schoenthaler, S. J., & Bier, I. D. (2000). The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on juvenile delinquency among American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 6(1), 7-17.
  4. Tammam, J. D., Steinsaltz, D., Bester, D. W., Semb-Andenaes, T., & Stein, J. F. (2015). A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial investigating the behavioural effects of vitamin, mineral and n-3 fatty acid supplementation in typically developing adolescent schoolchildren. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(2), 361-373. doi: 10.1017/S0007114515004390.
  5. Zaalberg, A., Nijman, H., Bulten, E., Stroosma, L., & van der Staak, C. (2010). Effects of nutritional supplements on aggression, rule-breaking, and psychopathology among young adult prisoners. Aggressive Behavior, 36(2), 117-126. doi: 10.1002/ab.20335; 10.1002/ab.20335
  6. Schoenthaler, S. J. (1982). The effect of sugar on the treatment and control of antisocial behavior: A double-blind study of an incarcerated juvenile population. International Journal of Biosocial Research, 3(1), 1-9. Solnick, S. J., & Hemenway, D. (2012).
  7. The ‘Twinkie Defense’: the relationship between carbonated non-diet soft drinks and violence perpetration among Boston high school students. Inj Prev, 18(4), 259-263. doi: 10.1136/injuryprev-2011-040117

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47 COMMENTS

  1. Elementary, Watson. There are no megabucks to be made in nutrients, no multi-billion dollar patents at stake, no personal and corporate fortunes to be easily made, no need to preserve antique beliefs about violence, good and evil that have provided combustible material for theologians, moralists, crusaders and dramatists for centuries.

  2. What’s probably necessary for institutions, is to force directors to be responsible for the conduct of their charges, sacking those who have increasing rates of violent incidents in their facilities. It wouldn’t hurt to put legal skids on corporate backscratching, like we see in the pharmaceutical industry today.

    Unfortunately, the most difficult thing is to hang on, waiting for an entire generation of doctors and corporate executives to die, which is why usually 40 to 60 years have to elapse between the time medical discoveries occur and when they’re finally adopted- or a situation to erupt that old paradigms can’t handle (the reason penicillin came in less than 20 years after its discovery- World War II, with it’s millions of casualties in danger of dying from septicemia).

    • Hey BC – yes, 40-60 years for turnover, except that this orthomolecular stuff was so suppressed upon discovery that I suspect it’s 40 years ago (as you note about Carl Pfeiffer below) – now.

      Sorry I cannot match your optimism. This technology will be buried under profit.

      They did a similar study on aggressive Australian prisoners and fish oil, reducing incidents by 50-75%. By the end of the study, they gave the placebo group the fish oil, it was so successful. So – forced fish oil for the imprisoned? Or just the violent ones?

        • That’s the way my ortho-doc speaks. There is no way her supplements will do to me what the psych drugs did. (see below, as I address “chemical imbalance” from orthomolecular perspective).

          We have all of these blatant effects from the drugs – the akathisia, withdrawal problems, over-stimulation, emotional distress – but my problem has been with the hidden effects: internal organs, endocrine, cardiac.

          No way that niacin or fish oil could begin to do to me what the psych drugs did.

          BC I’m glad you are doing what you do – and I wish there were more of you. Orthomolecular may not be the whole answer (I also believe that trauma must be addressed) – but by golly it’s a terrific start!

    • More on zinc and “eyeballing” the likelihood of its existence in interviewees.

      Major signs: lack of sense of taste and smell, white spots in fingernails, inability to taste (bitter) zinc sulfate in liquids.

      Possible signs: achy knees, no dream recall (both may indicate possibility of accompanying B6 deficiency or dependency)

      You’d also do well to read works of the late Carl Pfeiffer if you can find them. Zinc and Other Micronutrients is a good one if you can find it, or Mental and Elemental Nutrients. Both may be rare books by this time, being written 40+ years ago.

        • what? Smokers are often given patches and no smoke breaks. Most hospital campuses have no smoking facility anymore.

          Again, same in jail – the inmates took their patches and rolled them with coffee grounds and smoked them. Because their ciggies were taken away.

          At least it’s a strong motivator to stay the heck out of hospital!

      • Well, if you need the morning coffee that badly, maybe it’s time for that morning B1, which can be used as part of a program to eliminate speed-type drugs from your diet, and have a decaf instead. You also need a staff ready to set examples instead of being (sorry) examples. Even though I was a washed-out officer candidate, I’m still acquainted with the basics of leadership. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quit smoking until I had an episode of bronchitis so bad that the smallest hit on a cigarette left me rolling on the floor, coughing what remained of my lungs out. Having been classically conditioned from smoking by this, I realized I was a hopeless nicotine junky and could never smoke another one without this happening again. That was 40 years ago. I wouldn’t recommend this approach to others.

  3. Hi and thank you for writing about this. I’ve enjoyed watching Bonnie’s lectures on micronutrient therapy and have put some of the suggestions into our daily practice. We believe that aided greatly during my withdrawal process and continued physical healing.

    As for changing policy, might this be an area where a public writing campaign or petition effort of some sort directed at those in charge of policy – whether it be at the institutional level or the legislative level – be an effective tactic in this case? While there are plenty of people who write off the idea that nutrient therapy can have such dramatic response, there are plenty of us with lived experience using this on ourselves or loved ones.

    Restricted diets and nutrient therapy seems to be a well-accepted part of the care regimen for children with autism. And there is so much evidence, emerging and already gathered, on diet, digestion, and mental health. It’s hard to believe that those who are resisting these changes for adults with aggression and violence are doing it for any other reason than spite for what they see as bad behavior.

    Good luck. I’ll watch out for any requests for personal stories or petition signatures. Thank you for your work and dedication to sharing this message.

    • Probably not if you have surroundings where most of the residents are getting better, though I’m not actually sure. When I worked at a residential drug treatment center, I had a couple of residents that I was secretly giving niacinamide. When I began my shift, they would both suddenly appear at the Dutch door of the RA office while I was reading the shift notes and wait for me to give them their B3. Both graduated from the center’s program, to the professional staff’s amazement. I wasn’t going to admit anything to the staff, because I’d certainly be canned and ineligible for unemployment if the learned therapists found out (one staff member did find out I’d recommended How to Live With Schizophrenia for reading to one of the individuals, leading me to be reprimanded by the Clinical Supervisor).

  4. “Violence is a huge problem not only in prisons. In Christchurch where Julia lives, there has been an increasing problem of violence towards staff in psychiatric inpatient units.”

    Good grief. Here is an analogy. Let’s go back to the time of slavery in the antebellum South. Now, imagine that researchers notice an increase in violence of slaves toward masters. Then imagine that these researches propose to feed the slaves better food. Brilliant!

    Can we please be honest here. Psychiatry is systematic slavery and oppression. The drugs are poisons. The “treatments” are torture. The “hospitalizations” are involuntary incarcerations of innocent people against their will. Who cares if we feed the victims vitamins? For goodness sakes people. By all means, take your vitamins and study and recommend good nutrition. But let’s stop pretending that nutrition is a solution to violent and coercive psychiatry. If anything, there should be an increase in violence of psychiatric prisoners against their overlords and oppressors. Liberate the captives, and then let them choose which vitamins they want to take.

    – Slaying the Dragon of Psychiatry

    • I commented this on another thread, but I always wonder how many “assaults” on staff are actually assaults on the “patients” who then retaliated or defended themselves? Nutrition is important, but traumatization and oppression are the big drivers of violence and “mental illness.” Hell, oppression is the big driver of crappy nutrition, too!

    • That’s one of the reasons to reevaluate and reform hospital administrative culture. Our psychiatric culture would go into convulsions if you did one of the most elementary things- using hallucinogenic substances to give hospital staff members a taste of things as many patients experience them. The late Humphry Osmond, who was a noted hospital reformer while he was Superintendent of Weyburn Hospital, Saskatchewan, an institution a foundation investigator called one of the worst mental hospitals in the world (that he’d seen), encouraged his employees to take LSD for that very purpose as part of his program. He also renovated all the hospital “seclusion rooms” so they were places patients could use for refuges, instead of places staff used for punishment cells, among other things.

  5. Boutique studies like this one regarding inflammation as a possible etiology for ‘schizophrenia’ filtered down to the clinics five years ago and now patients routinely wash down their daily cocktails of neuroleptics, benzodiazapines, SSRI’s, and mood stabilizers with a fat Omega 3 fish oil tablet.

    The same thing will happen with copper and zinc pills if these studies filter down to the community mental health clinics. If they’re cheap enough, docs will throw anything into the mix. That way docs who exercise complimentary, nutritional approaches while dispensing the standard neuro toxins, can appear as ‘open minded’ when in reality, they will continue to hold the greatest contempt for professionals in the field of nutrition, orthomolecular or naturopathic medicine and virtually anyone who challenges their authority.

    Frank Blankenship is right. Release the inmates, then talk about nutrition, but before you empty out these places, identify those inmates whose toxic cocktails resulted in uncharacteristic violent or criminal behavior, akathesia, aggression, etc. pay them a small fortune in return for the suffering and loss to their reputation.

    Yes, food in institutions suck. It’s full of gluten, dairy, high in carbohydrates like sugar, artificial preservatives, and most of the meals are prepared from highly processed, reheated frozen and canned ingredients. Ironically, soda pop is used as a behavioral ‘incentive’ at some of these dumps. But the nutrition piece seems to pale in comparison to the psychological torture of being medically kidnapped, deprived of one’s privacy and liberty, denied access to fresh air, and sunshine. And that is not counting restraint, seclusion, forced injections, and ECT.

    My daughter, a country girl, who loves nothing better than walking barefoot and swimming in the creek, was forced to live for several years in a large concrete box surrounded by barbed wire. Her exposure to nature was limited to watching Animal Planet on TV and her company was limited for months on end to people in various states of distress, screaming, crawling, crying, or shuffling back and forth in slippers and bathrobes, while nurses peer out from behind bullet proof windows . For stimulation, she was herded around to activities such as ‘art class’ where full grown adults, some of whom had advance degrees, were given coloring books and crayons and told to ‘color’, where patients could play a broken piano, in a urine stained ‘music room.’

    With the ‘Cures’ bill calling for more beds in facilities like this, I think nutrition is the least of our worries but anything that helps without hurting is a worthy project.

  6. I’m not sure if I understand this correctly, and I’m doing my best to present positive criticism, but like all the articles written by this duo, they give me the impression that all mental problems basically come down to a lack of nutrients, or eating the wrong foods (e.g. gluten) and nothing else. Other factors are never taken into account. And the solution is always taking supplements, as if there is no other way out either. This sounds really stupid and short-sided in view (and I stress that this is just my personal opinion).

    For one, even if a lack of nutrients could be identified as a cause of aggresion and violence (which this study doesn’t do; it just says the nutrients improve the behavior, which is not the same as identifying the cause for the behavior), there can be many other causes too. Second, nutrients can easily be found in plain food. So why not suggest a healthier diet instead of promoting supplements? Third, the “no side-effects” argument for supplements such as micronutrients is also very weak, and many will disagree. It is well known that anything that actually has an effect on the body can go both ways, so there is always the potential of side-effects, if not in the short-term, then at the very least in the long-run. This study doesn’t look at long-term outcomes. Fourth, the supplement industry is big bussiness too. There’s lots of bias, lots of fake science, lots of lies, lots of lobbying, lots of promotion, and lots of covering the truth, just like in any business that tries to sell its product.

    I particularly have a problem with this sentence: “The nutrients chosen were based on knowledge of biochemistry and the nutrients known to be essential for combating oxidative stress, improving neurotransmitter synthesis and glucose metabolism. More specifically, the researchers identify elevated copper relative to zinc as playing an important role in the expression of aggression.”

    This sounds very much like the theories psychiatry has been producing for decades to explain mental illness. Everything is reduced to biochemistry.

    Also, this trial wasn’t blinded, so the results remain uncertain. This uncertaintly is not reflected in the conclusion of the authors but it should.

    What about therapy and counseling for learning how to deal with aggression? I would think that aggression is usually the result of unresolved psychological issues, e.g. frustrations, trauma, or something of that kind. Then again, who am I to say. I don’t have a PhD or anything.

    • The point, when things are done right, psychotherapy is possible. Trying to grasp your family and social dynamics are just as difficult when your attention span is short, due to inability to concentrate, as it is when your frontal lobes are shut off by psych drugs.

      • The other thing is, even if a dietary change helps only a little, it starts the person down the path of realizing that THEY THEMSELVES CAN CHANGE THEIR CONDITION! The very worst thing about the current psychiatric model is not the drugs – it is the nihilistic message that you have no control over your own brain, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It is the exact opposite of what actually helps people. So if they find that reducing copper improves their behavior, even if it’s still not great, the psychiatric message is broken – they realize they CAN do something about it, and perhaps even realize that the psychiatrist they were trusting has no idea what s/he is talking about.

      • Thank you. In childhood I had two frontal concussions and in teens two or three more minor unhospitalized while drunk/high. “Mental “Health”” always said “not the/a problem” along with the PTSD Disasociative Amnesia diagnosis from sexual abuse/emotional/physical(?) abuse at “home.” I found out recently (Dr. Breggin site?) my first antidepressant (age 16) can cause psychosis. I was on Wellbutrin for years going through anger/”sex freak” thoughts. Second last round I was talked into Ritalin which of course started abusing as well as porn(more). Lost my daughter and went into mental health “rehab” for six months. Last round 1.5 yrs ago was Abilify,Cymbalta and two sleepers (can’t remember what they were now). I’m So ****ing lost now and lost kids/family/girlfriend. Little focus/short term memory. Thanks for years of help” “Mental “Health.”” You Really know how to Destroy People.

    • When I went to my orthomolecular doctor, I cried and kicked and screamed.

      I said to her – but I just broke free of the “chemical imbalance!” What is the difference here?

      Her answer was simple: my remedies will nourish and build your health. Those drugs will destroy you.

      So far, she’s been right.

  7. Policy is not changing because Psychiatry is being used for the control of victims of extreme perpetration and cover up of the crimes for the perpetrators. Electroshock is cited as “helpful for those with trauma”. If that’s the case why are the U.N. not using it on child soldiers they rehabilitate in their centers ? See The Alchemy of Wolves and Sheep: A Relational Approach to Internalized Perpetration in Complex Trauma Survivors https://www.amazon.com/Alchemy-Wolves-Sheep-Internalized-Perpetration-ebook/dp/B00G6MOOT4

    • Probably a good thing ECT wouldn’t work for that. Since it would be thought black magic to keep ECT patients on niacin to preserve their long term memories (something I bet a number of MIA contributors don’t know, either), you’d simply wind up with legions of partial amnesiacs if you did give the child soldiers ECT’s, while you had no idea what parts of their memories you erased.

    • Well, you’ve got to realize that psychiatrists aren’t necessarily the sharpest tacks in the box, when it comes to global comprehension. One look at their suicide rate tells you that, being just one step behind the dentists, who are plagued by mercury exposure from amalgam throughout their professional careers.

  8. Many of them are not just “a bit dim”. They are extreme perpetrators who are hired by organised crime syndicates and individual perpetrators to silence victims and cover up for forms of organised crime. They are also an extreme social control system. LOOK at the Child Soldier phenomenon. THAT proves the case. If electroshock is SO beneficial then it would be used on child soldiers in United Nations rehabilitation centers but is not. You people are like what is portrayed in the film Demolition Man. You are totally clueless and naive about the reality of the types of crime and corruption in medical systems and government that we are dealing with as a society. Find out the truth ! Demand that action is taken from your politicians or even better elect someone who will do the job rather than keeping us all in the dark. This “let’s pretend everything is OK” has to stop. We are not dealing with people who just “don’t know any better” (although there may be a few of those).

  9. Why is policy not changing? Psychiatry’s goal is to annihilate its victims. It’s narcotics are a strong first step toward that goal. But, healthy bodies DO fight off psychiatry’s poison. And, if they’re young, those bodies can fight for years – a bad situation for psychiatry. The more time it takes for psychiatry to annihilate, the less likely it ever will. It’s a mammoth job to break the rhythms of nature. Whoever wants a shot at it must go full-throttle.

    • Oh, they don’t want to annihilate them, they want to keep them weak and dependent so they can bilk insurance companies out of billions without having to look for new customers. They don’t MIND if they annihilate its victims, but only after they’ve squeezed them for a bunch of pharma dollars first.

  10. Great to see that you are still researching nutrition. As far as getting the word out it seems that most people don’t want to hear it. I did hear from a doctor, however, that some people need more Vitamin D. So I increased my daily dose from 1000 IU to 4000 IU. The changes both physical and mental were amazing so i kept increasing the dose and kept feeling better. I now take 8000 IU daily and can honestly say that I have never felt better in my life and I am now 60 years old. One of the most amazing things for me was that I never feel rage anymore. This has been 18 months now and the things that used to make me feel angry, now just make me sad. I know that some people with mental illness have been helped with B vitamins, but they never worked for me, Vitamin D was what changed everything for me. This could be because I have fair skin and have been using sunscreen for the last twenty years or so. One organization in Canada that is trying to get the word out is Pure North. They have been promoting nutrition testing for 10 years and I just heard about them a few months ago. It is very frustrating when you find something that is a real game changer and no one seems to care.