Is a Healthy Diet a Get Out of Jail Free Card?

A study aims to test whether dietary supplements can improve prisoners' behavior

| January 25, 2007

It seems there's a vitamin or food prescription for every malady of mood. Depressed? Boost your vitamin B intake. Tired? Skip caffeine and go for some omega-3 fatty acids. Tense? Find relaxation through magnesium.

Oxford researchers are putting the healing power of food to the test with a new study in three prisons, including one in Scotland. According to a recent article in the Scotsman, prisoners would take part in a study that will track the influence of healthy eating on behavior. Scheduled to begin in the next three months, the study will provide 1,200 inmates with dietary supplements containing 'a mixture of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.' A select number will serve as a control group, receiving dummy pills.

A similar study took place in an English prison a few years ago. Kristin Meyers and Joby Martin report in the Monterey County Weekly that 'prisoners who received doses of zinc, iodine, potassium, and magnesium committed 37 percent fewer violent offenses' while incarcerated. They also point to a study conducted in the 1980s that analyzed the hairs of 27 murderers, including that of Charles Manson, and found significant zinc deficiencies. The conclusion reached in that study was that 'a poor diet contributed to turning these people into monsters.' According to Meyers and Martin, eating the right foods is as important as taking medication.

The hope amongst researchers is that, should the Scottish prison study prove successful, dietary adjustments can be applied to others with behavioral problems, including disruptive schoolchildren.

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