Friday, May 19, 2006

Diet and Behavior

By Dr. Baruch
The recent study on the correlation between diet and behavior in one set of identical twins, showing a dramatic increase in IQ test results and decrease in discipline problems in the twin on an additive-free diet, is only the latest in a series of similar studies. Dr Bernard Gesch, a research scientist in physiology, carried out a Home Office-backed study on inmates at a maximum security facility in Aylesbury which had dramatic results: among those inmates on a regime of dietary supplements, serious disciplinary offences (including acts of violence) dropped by 37% - once the study was concluded and the prisoners returned to their usual diets, the prison staff reported a rise in violence against them of 40%.

During his presentation to the Associate Parliamentary Food And Health Forum (FHF) regarding the Aylesbury experiment, Dr Gesch outlined nine previous studies by a number of researchers on both sides of the Atlantic drawing strong relationships between diet and behavior in prison or school situations dating from between 1976 and 2003 - not one of which was funded for follow-up. He also points out that the diet of the general population has changed dramatically over the past few decades from fresh whole foods to highly refined and processed packaged foods - it is also worth noting that our intake of animal products is drastically higher than it was before WWII, and at the same time livestock has become more exposed to chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, etc.) than ever before, leading to unprecedented levels of
pollution of groundwater in both Britain and America; at the same time, levels of physical activity have dropped alarmingly. Dr Gesch lists in his presentation the many deficiencies in trace elements detected in the offenders at Aylesbury.

Dr Joseph Hibbeln5 followed Dr Gesch's presentation by pointing out that
the change in diet has resulted in dramatic changes in the ratio of
Omega fatty acids consumed by Americans, and that the intake of these
essential fatty acids is crucial to the formation of the brain. In
other words, the formation of every system and function of the body is
affected by diet, and the average western diet is not only lower in
nutritional value than it was a few decades ago, but even the
healthiest diet is lower in nutrients due to the rapid deterioration of
topsoil in the age of industrial farming. Dr Hibbeln referenced five
major studies on links between food and behavior, and added that Dr
Gesch's conclusions were in line with cross-cultural epidemiological6
and long-term studies on links between diet and behavior, and with the
known 'neurochemical mechanism(s) related to violence and impulsive

To make matters worse, heavy drug use can have an adverse impact on the
absorption and retention of nutrients, and many prisoners either have
drug problems on entering the prison system or acquire one once inside.
Further, Dr Gesch's Aylesbury study points to poor dietary choices made
by prisoners, which perhaps points to a general lack of awareness about
nutrition among prisoners (disproportionately drawn from poorer sections
of society due to a number of factors), and may indicate that the
general public is not as well educated on diet as is usually assumed.
The influence of food advertising, especially during childhood (the
crucial period for the physiological impact of nutrients), may well
play a significant role in the dietary choices made both by prisoners
and the general public.

As seen in the FHF presentation, Gesch and Hibbeln are not alone in
their conclusions. The nine studies Dr Gesch cited and the five
specific studies cited by Dr Hibbeln are only part of the growing body
of evidence since the 1970s that strongly supports a link between diet
and behavior. In 1997, The Sunday Times referenced several studies on
the correlation between low levels of zinc and anti-social behavior and
ADHD. Similarly, links between fatty acids, dyslexia, and behavioral
problems such as ADHD were found by researchers from Oxford University
and London's Imperial College School of Medicine during a study on
children with dyslexia and behavioral problems in Northern Ireland.
Prof. Ian Town of Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences
in NZ is currently conducting a long-term study of the role of iron
deficiency in behavior, and, as a result of a study on the link between
diet and behavior in schoolchildren by Dr Charles Pollak7, the Scottish
Executive is rethinking its policy on school lunches. Initial research
into the effects of diet on aging show that a poor diet in early life
leads to an inability to use anti-oxidants, and so to early aging and
death in animals; further research will be undertaken to determine
whether the same holds true in humans.

Obviously, diet is not the sole cause of anti-social or criminal
behavior - there are many factors involved. But it does seem clear that
behavior, mental health, and the development of cognitive functions and
impulse control are directly and drastically modified by diet.
Given the Composition of Food’s (FSA) own survey of the bioavailable
nutrients in food compared with 70 years ago, the increased reliance on
processed and refined foods, the dramatic fall in consumption of Omega
fatty acids, and the available studies on diet and behavior, it would
be wise for those in the affluent global north to take serious stock of
dietary trends and habits - and their consequences.

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