Dietary supplements can dramatically reduce antisocial acts in a prison population, according to a new large-scale study in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry. C. Bernard Gesch and colleagues, calling their findings "remarkable," say that the approach "looks to be cheap, highly effective, and humane."
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized experiment, Gesch et al. recruited 231 young adult prisoners, assigning half to receive dietary supplements and the other half to receive a placebo. The placebo and active-treatment groups were matched according to their number of disciplinary incidents and their progress through the prison system. There were no significant differences between the two groups in IQ, verbal ability, anger, anxiety, or depression.
Subjects remained on the supplements, which contained vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, for an average of 142 days. Compared to the placebo group, the researchers report, prisoners taking the active supplements committed an average of 26.3 percent fewer offenses. Compared to baseline rates, there was a 35.1 percent reduction in offenses in the supplemented group. "The greatest reduction occurred for the most serious incidents including violence," the researchers note, with a 37 percent drop seen in such incidents. No side effects were seen in subjects taking the supplements.
Gesch and colleagues conclude, "If these findings are replicated, a potential implication is that the dietary requirements for good health are also supportive of social behavior." They note that a number of the prisoners they studied lacked even a rudimentary knowledge of nutrition, and that "poor food choices by the prisoners typically resulted in lower nutrient intakes, most notably of minerals." Even though the prisoners were offered a relatively healthy diet while incarcerated, the researchers say, they consumed less than the recommended amounts of several essential nutrients.
"It is not advocated that nutrition is the only cause of antisocial behavior," the researchers say, "but the difference in outcome between the active and placebo groups could not be explained by ethnic or social factors, as they were controlled for by the randomized design."
Gesch et al.'s research supports previous findings by Stephen Schoenthaler and colleagues, whose studies show that nutritional supplementation can reduce antisocial acts by incarcerated children or adults, as well as reducing antisocial behavior and increasing IQ in "at risk" school children (see related article, Crime Times, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 2, Pages 3 & 6). Schoenthaler's dietary supplement research on young adult offenders in California revealed a 38 percent lower rate of serious rule violations in the group receiving supplements. Two other large, placebo-controlled studies by Schoenthaler et al., one of a group of "at risk" elementary school children and the other of adolescent delinquents, also revealed that those receiving dietary supplements showed a marked drop in violent and non-violent antisocial acts.
Schoenthaler says of the Gesch et al. findings, "This is extremely welcome news, because a scientist in Great Britain... has independently confirmed what we've been dedicating ourselves to in studies across the United States for the past 20 years. Thousands of children and adults have now participated in these international studies. The most important finding here is that violent behavior can be reduced significantly at a very low cost, making our schools and correctional institutions much safer."
Similar findings were reported by Richard Carlton et al. (see related article, Crime Times, 2000, Vol. 6, No. 3, Pages 1 & 3), who found that supplements improved mood, behavior, and school performance in learning disabled children.
Bishop Hugh Montefiore of Natural Justice, a U.K. research charity that sponsored the new research by Gesch and colleagues, said, "The study is of great importance not only to those who work inside prisons but also more widely in the community."
Sir David Ramsbotham, former chief inspector of prisons, agreed, saying, "If healthy eating is part of a healthy lifestyle, and a healthy lifestyle is a crime-free lifestyle, I hope that [the prison service] will look seriously at exploiting the evidence presented to them." And clinical psychology professor Ron Blackburn, noting that most approaches to reducing offending require extensive resources, says, "This research program promises to have an impact on antisocial behavior with minimal intervention and deserves full support."
"Influence of supplementary vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners: randomized, placebo-controlled trial," C. Bernard Gesch, Sean M. Hammond, Sarah E. Hampson, Anita Eves, and Martin J. Crowder, British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 181, July 2002, 22-28. Address: C. Bernard Gesch, University Laboratory of Physiology, University of Oxford, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PT, UK.
"Healthy eating can 'cut crime,'" BBC News, June 25, 2002.
"Professor Schoenthaler's nutrition research reveals link between vitamin supplements and reduced violent behavior," press release, California State University, Stanislaus, July 3, 2002.
"Addiction and criminal behaviour," S. Schoenthaler and I. D. Bier, in Food Allergy and Intolerance (2nd edition), edited by J. Brostoff and S. Challacombe, W.B. Saunders Publishing, July 2002, 985-1000; "The effect of vitamin-mineral supplementation on juvenile delinquency among American schoolchildren: a randomized, double-blind placebo- controlled trial," S. Schoenthaler and I. D. Bier, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2000, 7-17; and, "The effect of randomized vitamin-mineral supplementation on violent and non-violent antisocial behavior among incarcerated juveniles," S. J. Schoenthaler, S. P. Amos, W. E. Doras, M. A. Kelly, G. D. Muedeking, and L. A. Wakefield, Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 7, 1997, 343- 352.