My heart goes out to those who were touched by the tragedy in Connecticut last month, and like many others, I can’t help but reflect on why behaviors like these occur and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
Last month it was the shooting in a school in Connecticut and a mall in Oregon. A few months ago it was a movie theater and in other years it’s been a military base in Texas, a political event in Arizona and of course there’s Columbine, post offices and many others. In some other countries, large-scale violence is a part of every day life.
On a less public spectrum, people face violence from their family members, coworkers, parents, friends, spouses or partners, neighbors, or strangers on the highway or in a parking lot on a regular basis.
We see a continuing and disturbing trend of more and more violence rising up in all areas of our society, sometimes from the people and places we least expect.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Bruce Perry tells us that “all” human behavior is mediated by the brain and the brain’s ability to mediate impulse control is related to a ratio between the lower more primitive areas of the brain which are excitatory and the higher sub-cortical and cortical areas of the brain which are inhibitory. Any element that increases activity in the more primitive areas of the brain or decreases the higher more modulating areas of the brain will “increase an individual’s aggressivity, impulsivity, and capacity to display violence.”
In some ground-breaking work by neuroscientists Kent A. Kiehl and Joshua W. Buckholtz, they found that even psychopaths develop because of impairment in the brain. Neuroimaging on the brains of psychopaths has found that their brains are not functioning normally in the areas that allow them to feel emotion, experience empathy, regulate impulse control, learn from mistakes and read cues from other people. “Their brains process information differently. It’s as if they have a learning disability that impairs emotional development.” Psychopathology may go undetected for many years, because they learn to imitate the feelings and behaviors they know they are supposed to have, just like someone without a leg or an arm adjusts to this loss. I certainly wouldn’t say that everyone committing acts of violence are psychopaths, but this illustrates the vital importance of the brain in relation to antisocial behaviors.
Neurotransmitters in the brain are what determines how we feel, think and behave. Not enough or too many of these crucial neuromodulators and a vast array of psychological symptoms develop, with violence being one of the most common. Furthermore, neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, gaba, histamine, acetylcholine and others are also used to down-regulate norepinephrine, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter that can be toxic to the brain in excess and overstimulates the lower more primitive sections of the brain that are responsible for increasing impulsivity. An imbalance in neurotransmitters is one of the primary factors that impairs the brain’s impulse-mediating capacity. For example, not enough serotonin and too much norepinephrine have both been linked to aggressive and violent behavior.
In order for the brain to function adequately, neurotransmitters need to be available in sufficient and balanced amounts. When they are not, there will be disturbance in thought, perception, mood, and behavior, which leads to symptoms like anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, impaired cognitive functioning, learning disabilities, excessive worry and guilt, low self-esteem and self-worth, loss of impulse control, paranoia, obsession, irritability, loss of empathy, aggression and violence and much more.
In End Your Addiction Now, Dr. Charles Gant explains that in order for the brain to function properly it must have two primary elements: precisely the right type and amount of nutrients from the diet and the absence of toxins.
The brain manufacturers neurotransmitters from the nutrients that are contained in the food that we eat, like amino acids, B vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. These nutrients need to be made available to the brain each and every day in sufficient amounts. A diet that consists of sugar and highly refined and processed foods is completely void of nutrients.
If you are eating food that does not contain enough of these nutrients, which includes much of the general population, then the brain will not have what it needs for proper neurotransmitter production or function. In Food Makes the Difference, Dr. Patricia Kane tells us that one of the first signs of nutritional deficiencies is psychological disturbance.
Additionally, some foods like sugar, caffeine, artificial flavors, sugar substitutes, high-starch foods and food additives, dyes and preservatives, and even whole grains impair neurotransmitter production and function as well, so these foods provide a double whammy by being both void of nutritional value and direct disruption to the brain. Sugar even takes it one step further, because in order for sugar to be metabolized by the body it must pull our mineral reserves, which results in mineral depletion.
The bottom line is that a malnourished brain cannot receive and process information in the same manner as a healthy brain and it does not have the same capabilities.
Secondly, common every day toxins in the environment that are found in your personal care products, cosmetics, cleaning supplies, perfumes and colognes, air fresheners, dryer sheets, solvents, air pollution, petrochemicals, auto exhaust and drinking water can cross the blood brain barrier and land on the receptors for our neurotransmitters and impair their ability to do their jobs. The same is true of pesticides and herbicides, which also inhibit the conversion of our amino acid tryptophan into serotonin and heavy metals which can disrupt production of many neurotransmitters.
Furthermore, a high load of toxins in the body puts great stress on the body to try and eliminate them; when we are under stress we need lots of neurotransmitters because they are used to modulate the stress response system as well. Additionally, all our nutrients get used up in helping the body detox and there aren’t many left over to make neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters and brain function are also impacted by chronic stress, childhood abuse or neglect, low blood sugar, candida overgrowth, food sensitivities, concussion or other brain trauma and genetic problems with enzymes that are needed to synthesize and break down neurotransmitters, all of which can result in violent behaviors. All of these factors, must be taken into consideration as well, however, the crux of this issue lies in diet and toxins.
Yes, we can attribute some of the violence we see to the fact that many people are exposed to violence through childhood abuse, domestic violence, video games, etc, but even this isn’t simply about a learned behavior. It too is about neurotransmitters. Each of these elements can alter brain chemistry.
When someone is exposed to violence repeatedly, even in video games, this is a form of stress. As we mentioned previously, when we are under stress, neurotransmitters are called upon extensively because they are needed to modulate the stress response system. When there is ongoing stress, neurotransmitters like serotonin, GABA and endorphins get used up dealing with the stress and there is an excess of norepinephrine. Chronic stress of any kind, especially in childhood, can alter brain function, chemistry and structure. Furthermore, it has been found that playing video games stimulates the area of the brain associated with dopamine. If one is playing video games on an excessive basis, this would be extensive stimulation to dopamine and anytime neurotransmitters are overstimulated it eventually leads to depletion.
We could also blame alcohol, street drugs and psychiatric medication. However, the most common reason that someone turns to drugs, alcohol or psychiatric medication is because their neurotransmitters are depleted or impaired because of a poor diet and environmental toxins. All drugs of abuse, including alcohol, alter the production, release and reuptake of our natural neurotransmitters. They mimic our natural neurotransmitters, which provides the individual with impaired brain chemistry a temporary feeling of relief from their symptoms, but as soon as the drug wears off the symptoms return and more drugs are needed.
If one takes prescription-based psychiatric medications for any of the symptoms that develop as a result of impaired brain chemistry, which is what commonly happens to most, it only disrupts neurotransmitters even more, because they artificially stimulate our neurotransmitters and artificial stimulation of neurotransmitters results in a cut-back of our natural neurotransmitters production and function, which intensifies and perpetuates the problem even further. Many studies have shown that there is an increase in violence, homicide and suicide within individuals using prescription based psychotropics. It is believed that Adam Lanza, the young man responsible for the shooting in Connecticut was on psychiatric medication and so were most, if not all, of the other individuals involved in other acts of violence like Columbine, etc.
Too much copper in the body is also a catalyst for violence as it impairs the breakdown of our neurotransmitter dopamine and has a stimulating effect on the brain similar to stimulant drugs. An excess of copper is very common in the population and occurs most often because the diet is low in zinc, as zinc keeps copper in balance and vice and versa. Zinc is not present in a junk food diet.
A deficiency in iron and the presence of heavy metals in the body have also been associated with males incarcerated for conduct disorder. The prevalence of iron deficiency among incarcerated adolescents is nearly twice as high as their non-incarcerated peers. Iron is needed in the synthesize of several neurotransmitters and it does not exist in a junk food diet either. Heavy metals have been found to be significantly higher in the incarcerated as well.
Violent and aggressive tendencies are also commonly experienced in people with excessive levels of estrogen or testosterone, because our hormones have an intimate relationship with the how the brain functions as well. Much of our population is estrogen dominant because of environmental toxins called endocrine disruptors that mimic our natural estrogens.
Either way, the end result is that when neurotransmitters and the brain are not functioning properly, an individual’s perception, moral compass, impulse control, ability to feel empathy and abide by social norms becomes distorted or impaired.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Dramatic and immediate improvements in brain function, mood, thought and behavior can be made by making very simple changes in diet and lifestyle; by eating real and wholesome foods like those found in a primal diet, instead of sugar and a bunch of refined and processed junk food and eliminating environmental toxins from the household by adopting a green lifestyle.
In one very impressive study, the antisocial behaviors of children in a correctional institute were diminished in 80 percent of the subjects and in a follow-up study antisocial acts were reduced by 50 percent, by simply eliminating sugar, food additives, preservatives and dyes and providing whole and healthy foods. Even more striking, the children who had been convicted of the worst crimes were the one’s who benefited the most.
Barbara Reed-Stitt, a former probation officer and author of Food & Behavior: A Natural Connection, made astounding improvements in criminal and antisocial behavior within her parolees by also eliminating the sugar, food additives and preservatives and other junk food and replacing it with wholesome and healthy food. About 85 percent of Barbara’s parolees did not reoffend, compared to the national norm, which is 15% in most parole officers.
In the work of Dr. Doris Rapp, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, Dr. Charles Gant and Dr. Theron Randolph, they too have found you can simply turn off violent behavior and other behavioral disorders, as well as learning disorders, mood disorders, hyperactivity and much more, by feeding people a wholesome diet and eliminating exposures to environmental toxins.
No, not everyone who is nutrient deficient or exposed to environmental toxins becomes violent, symptoms of an impaired brain can vary widely from person to person. It is often a complex interaction of many variables that sets violence into action, and we must look at all these variables, but poor diet and toxins are often the fuse that lights the fire. If they were not in place, then when the other variables come along, it would be less likely to burst into flames.
I am also not suggesting that we can solve all of the violence issues in our society with proper diet and green living, but we can certainly make a significant dent in the incidence. Gun control and locking everybody up is not going to eliminate this problem, because there will always be someone else with an impaired brain and without access to a gun they will just find another way to inflict violence. I’m not saying some tighter control on guns would be a bad idea, but the bottom line is that a person with a stable brain is not going to use a gun in a violent manner even if it is available to them.
Most of our population is eating a nutrient deficient diet and exposed to mass amounts of toxins on a daily basis, which means we have a large number of people in our society walking around with brains that are functioning at much less than optimal levels and are an act of violence waiting to happen. All it takes is that one last little stressor that pushes them over the edge and they erupt. It could even happen to you or someone you know, if you are eating poorly or exposed to a lot of toxins.
Our mental health providers, criminal justice system, health care practitioners, and society in general need to understand that people who commit acts of violence are not evil monsters — they are people with brains that are impaired from poor diet and toxicity which causes them to behave in monstrous ways. Only then will we be able to have safer and more peaceful communities and prevent more of these tragedies from occurring.
No, this does not justify violent behavior, dissolve our grief or mean that we are not entitled to feel outraged at the violation. However, if we are ever going to change the future, we must be willing to look at all the roots that motivates one to be violent, so that we can make the right interventions.
If society does not wake up and recognize the problem of nutrient deficient diets and environmental toxins in our society, proper brain function in the population will continue to decline and we will see more and more violence develop in the future.
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