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Peaceful Living Through Chemistry

By Lauren GravitzNovember 1, 2002 6:00 AM


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Oxford physiologist Bernard Gesch has a suggestion for one way to keep the peace: Feed criminals a balanced diet. He and his colleagues supplied vitamin supplements and other micronutrients to a group of 82 prison inmates and then compared their conduct with that of 90 convicts who received placebos. The well-nourished convicts committed 35 percent fewer offenses than their placebo-fed peers. "Nutrients are required for biological functioning," Gesch says. Might some violent acts be a symptom of malnutrition? Omega-3 fatty acids seem to increase cells' ability to take in serotonin. Low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with depression and aggression. B vitamins and minerals such as chromium and zinc are required to utilize glucose; poor glucose metabolism also seems predictive of violent behavior. "We've seriously underestimated the importance of health and nutrition in a major area—mental health and behavior," Gesch says. He posits that nutrition programs could help reduce prison violence and, more important, could help prevent the development of violent behavior among children.

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