Fish Oil: The Antidote for Violent Crime?

April 14, 2006

Fish Oil:  The Antidote for Violent Crime? Can you reduce criminal behavior with food? 

 Competency # 13 Fats                            Reference: New York Times, November 20, 2005 

Several months back we reported on a study from Great Britain showing that pregnant women who ate the most fish had children born who had higher IQs and lower antisocial behaviors when measured up to 5 years later(Avon Study).  We suggested then that the avoidance of fish during pregnancy was a bad idea, even though it’s the current recommendation in America because of fears of mercury.  The risk of mercury damage is one in millions whereas the risk of IQ loss is 7%. 

 Let’s build on that idea.  We do know your brain is 40% omega fatty acids.  That’s a crucial ingredient in huge amounts.  We also know that our modern diet is horribly deficient in all sources of omega fatty acids.  We’ve processed out all the omega threes in our modern industrial food production processes because omega threes spoil rapidly.  For long time readers of this column, you have seen my admonition to eat ground flaxseed on a daily basis as that is a wonderful source of omega-three fatty acids. Other good sources are almonds, walnuts lots of fish. 

 Here is more preliminary research, reported in the New York Times about fish oil.  Criminals in prisons are there for violent/antisocial behavior of some kind.  Diets in prisons are not known for their cuisine.  The NYT found a study by Dr. Joseph Hibbeln published back in 2001 correlating the intake of omega fatty acids and violent criminal behavior.  

A researcher named Bernard Gesch at Oxford liked that idea.  He tested 231 volunteers in British prisons and conducted a blinded study in which half got omega fatty acid supplements, the others placebo.  The omega group’s violent behavior as measured by assaults and other prison violations dropped 30%.  That has prompted studies to start in Norway and Holland. Of course, your behavior is controlled by your brain.  

Violent behavior is often the product of impulsive, emotion-driven, sudden action.  Can poor nutrition be part of that?  If this sort of research we see with pregnant women and prisoners can continue to be validated, it adds to the body of evidence that is clearly accepting that our bodies are desperate for more omega fatty acids.  The American Heart Association finds the evidence so compelling (40% reduction in sudden death with 2 fish servings a week) that eating more fish is part of our mainstream teaching.  

If we do it for our hearts, how about for our brains and our emotions.  If we do it for ourselves, shouldn’t we think about what we are doing in our prisons?  If in our prisons, why not in our schools?  The nutrition in our schools isn’t a far sight better. 

 WWW: What will work for me?  This isn’t new.  I take at least one fish oil and one flax seed oil tablet a day.  And I eat two heaping tablespoons of flaxseed a day on my whole-grain cereal.  An almond or two in my snack mix.  Think about what you are doing for your brains when you eat your omega threes.  Consider how mellow you will be when the cop pulls you over, when the teen comes in at 2 am, when the dog pukes on your carpet....

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)