In an effort to find the reasons for violent behavior among teens, many people point to video games, the media, or eroding families, yet one researcher believes the answer may be as simple as malnutrition.

“Above all the most influential factor in the course of increasing violence has been changes in the American food system and loss of nutrients for children and growing teens,” wrote Sylvia Onusic, Ph.D., in her article “Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight.

In fact, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals may all contribute to anxiety, aggression, and violent behavior, according to Onusic, whose work was published earlier this year by The Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit nutrition education foundation. Another factor that may be responsible for rising rates of violence? The increasing prevalence of psychiatric drug use among children and teens, says Onusic.

Feed Your Head

The brain and nervous system require specific nutrients to function properly, Onusic explains in her article, yet a large number of Americans live on processed and other devitalized foods. Whether obese or thin, many people may actually be suffering from malnutrition, with deficiencies in key vitamins, such as A, D, K, B1, B3, B6, B12, and folate, as well as the minerals iodine, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium, and manganese, all of which promote brain health.

“In many cases, this means their brains are starving," wrote Onusic, who finds the evidence that nutrient deficiencies can lead to aggression and violent behavior to be “overwhelming.”

Onusic first cites studies that show the vitamins A, D3 and K2 are all critical to brain development. For instance, researchers from the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, Calif., described how vitamin D, which is widely distributed throughout the brain, affects portions of the brain involved in learning and memory, as well as motor control. Other scientists have shown how vitamin K2 is needed for the formation of myelin, which insulates the nerves.

Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that vitamin B maintains brain health. All our deficiencies in vitamins B1 or B3 may cause beriberi and pellagra, respectively, which include neurological symptoms such as confusion and even insanity. What many people don’t understand is that they may have ‘subclinical’ symptoms resulting from slight yet still significant shortages of these vitamins. Also critical for positive mental health, B6 is a precursor for 50 enzymes and is necessary for the process of methylation. Vitamin B12 has been correlated with irrational anger and mental disorders, Onusic stated in her article. “A higher incidence of low B12 is found in mental patients than in the general population,” she wrote. Finally, folate has been associated with fetal growth retardation when mothers receive an inadequate supply during pregnancy.

On the mineral front, Onusic asserts that deficiencies in iodine, potassium, iron, magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese, and other minerals (in some cases, prenatal scarcities) may result in mental symptoms, including hostility and aggression.

The Evil Vitamin S?

Citing the work of Stephen J. Schoenthaler, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at California State University, Onusic describes how he has focused his research efforts on the effect of nutrition on cognition and behavior. In particular, he examines populations of school children, prisoners, and institutionalized juveniles. “He reported a significantly lower level of antisocial behavior after dietary modifications which involved decreasing sugar consumption during a three-month and nine-month period respectively,” wrote Onusic.

In fact, hypoglycemia, caused by a diet high in sugar as well as refined carbohydrates, could explain many examples of antisocial behavior. With co-researchers Hippchen, Schauss, and others, he discovered that hypoglycemia causes the brain to secrete the neurotoxin glutamate, which may lead to agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and violent behavior.

“Many factors in the environment are new to the genome since World War II,” wrote Onusic. “These include changes and additions to the food we eat leading to severe nutrient deficiencies, changes in American agriculture and fertility of the soils, more chemicals in the environment...”

Among these “other” changes, Onusic would include certain psychiatric medications.

A Cure Worse Than The Illness

In his blog post, "The secret at the bottom of psychiatry’s rabbit hole,” Pulitzer Prize nominee Jon Rappoport describes several acknowledged explanations for the school shootings, including access to guns and violence on TV, while also asking why the media has not named psychiatric drugs as a potential cause.

“In an analysis of mass shootings during the past fifteen years, every shooter had been taking or withdrawing from a psychiatric drug,” Onusic wrote, noting that, between 2004 and 2011, there were almost 13,000 reports to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch system of psychiatric drugs causing violent side effects. And an article published by PLOS One supports, in part, such claims.

Researchers from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, Harvard Medical School, and Wake Forest University School of Medicine identified 1,527 cases of violence reported for 31 drugs. Among the suspect drugs were varenicline (an aid to smoking cessation), various antidepressants, sedative/hypnotics, and three drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“Acts of violence towards others are a genuine and serious adverse drug event associated with a relatively small group of drugs,” the authors concluded. “Varenicline, which increases the availability of dopamine, and antidepressants with serotonergic effects were the most strongly and consistently implicated drugs.”

Ultimately, Onusic suggests education — “clearly defining good nutrition and putting it back into the mouths of our children” — as well as a grass roots effort to return balance to our food system. “Meanwhile, none of us is safe,” Onusic wrote. “Society as a whole must pay the price for the wholesale poison of our land, our air and our food supply.”

Sources: Onusic S. Violent Behavior: A Solution in Plain Sight. Wise Traditions. 2013.

Moore TJ, Glenmullen J, Furberg CD. Prescription Drugs Associated with Reports of Violence Towards Others. PLOS One. 2010.