Aggression and violence are common problems in society. These behaviors are common not only among adults, but in children and adolescents as well. While violence usually involves physical acts against other people, aggression usually involves verbal assaults and physical acts against other people, objects, or one’s self. These behaviors, when chronic and persistent, are often associated with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, certain personality disorders, developmental disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and posttraumatic stress disorder. Other possible causes of aggressive and violent behavior include traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, physical and sexual abuse, and unstable home environments. Some studies, however, suggest that diet and nutritional factors may play a role as a risk factor in developing abnormal behaviors such as violence and aggression. These include nutritional deficiencies as well as toxicities. Furthermore, exposure to certain chemicals in the environment may also affect one’s brain function and behavior.
Although there are not many studies that provide evidence on the role of nutrition in behavior, some studies suggest that aggressive behaviors improve with nutritional manipulation. Psychiatric symptoms, such as overaggressive behaviors have been linked to deficiencies in certain essential nutrients such as vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, zinc, iron, and tryptophan. Some studies have demonstrated that taking health supplements, including multivitamins and minerals help improve mood and mental function. On the other hand, some studies also show that supplementation with lithium, which not an essential nutrient, helps improve symptoms of bipolar depression, which may be associated with aggressive behaviors.
Other dietary factors possibly linked to overaggressive behaviors include reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) and food sensitivities. Exposure to the toxic effects of cadmium, aluminum, and lead has also been implicated, and some studies show that treatments that remove these metals from the brain help reduce overaggressive behaviors.
The medical treatment for chronic aggressive behaviors usually involves the use of prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, mood stabilizing drugs, and beta-blockers. Thorough medical and psychiatric evaluation is important before treatments are given, as well as monitoring of side effects, since treatment is usually long-term.
Studies show that the nutritional status of many people who have overaggressive behaviors is poor, with some individuals eating a lot of junk food. Their diets, therefore, are laden with empty calories from refined carbohydrates, sugar, fried foods, additives, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and other chemicals, which affect the brain in a negative way. For example, eating sugary foods can lead to unstable blood sugar levels, which can trigger anxiety and irritability. Aside from this, people who consume a poor diet may lack essential nutrients that may affect not only their physical, but their mental health as well.
Health experts recommend eating a healthy, balanced diet to promote both physical and mental health. Aside from this, some people may benefit from taking health supplements to treat nutritional deficiencies to improve their moods and behaviors. Some of the supplemental nutrients that may be useful include:
- Vitamins B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin), which may be effective in reducing aggressive and violent behavior. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that adolescent participants who were eating “junk food” diets were found to thiamine deficiency. They were found to be aggressive, highly irritable, impulsive, and sensitive to criticism. However, after thiamine supplementation, behaviors improved, together with laboratory findings of improved thiamine levels. Researchers suggest that more well-controlled studies be done to provide a clearer picture of the role of vitamin deficiencies in influencing overaggressive behaviors.
- Fish oil (DHA) supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent and treat violent behavior. Studies show that low DHA levels are associated with mental decline as well as abnormal thoughts and behaviors. Psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and ADHD, which all have some overaggressive behaviors associated with them, have been observed to improve with dietary supplementation with omega-3. However, more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness in treating behaviors associated with these disorders. Dietary sources high in DHA include sardines, salmon, and mackerel.
- 5HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid that is needed to produce serotonin (a neurotransmitter) levels in the brain. Some studies suggest that 5HTP supplementation can promote a calming effect and improve mood.
- Iron deficiency has been linked to mood swings, irritability, and aggressive behavior, especially in male adolescents. A blood test is needed is ensure that iron levels are low before supplements are taken, since excess iron intake can have toxic effects on the body.
- Minerals such as magnesium and selenium have been used to treat emotional instability and poor behavior.
- Herbal supplements such as St John’s Wort, passionflower, valerian, and Korean ginseng are believed to be useful in relieving mood instability, anxiety, and anger.
- Lithium is a micro-mineral that helps reduce aggressive behavior. This supplement is usually prescribed by a health care practitioner to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, suicidal tendencies, anger, and violent behavior. Studies suggest that low doses of lithium in drinking water help reduce overaggressive behavior. However, medical supervision and monitoring are necessary because of the potential side effects.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. Nutritional Influences on Aggressive Behavior. http://orthomolecular.org/library/articles/webach.shtml
Dubois, A. Nutritional Treatment for Anger Problems and Aggressive Behavior. https://suite.io/anne-dubois/4f8q26s
JCAP. Improved Mood and Behavior During Treatment with a Mineral-Vitamin Supplement: An Open-Label Case Series of Children. http://mavismac.com/wp-content/uploads/KaplanBJ-Improved-mood-and-behavior-during-treatment-with-a-mineral-vitamin-supplement.pdf
Medscape. What Is the Best Pharmacotherapy for Violent or Aggressive Behavior? http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/545247