Violence: Are There Dietary Causes?

Over at Psychology Today we’ve added a new post: “Violence: Are There Dietary Causes?

There we consider evidence that violence has recently become prevalent — especially in the form of indiscriminant murderous rampages, as in this data set collected by Peter Turchin:

The magnitude and timing of the increase in murderous rampages per capita looks remarkably similar to that of the obesity epidemic. Could they be related? Head over to Psychology Today for our take!

Leave a comment ?


  1. Great post you all. Lierre Keith ( The Vegetarian Myth ) has explored this omega 6 connection in her book.

    Personally, I suspect many of the pyschiatric drugs and am very concerned regarding the number of military members placed on them and returned to combat only to comit suicide in numbers exceeding combat deaths. Why is this not questioned more by the medical establishment?

  2. oops *psychiatric* 😉

  3. As much as I like to point to diet-related health issues as being the root of so much misery, my (admittedly weakly grounded) guess is that the mass killings are more tied to psychoactive drugs than obesity or n-6 oils.

    Check out the long list of mass killings where the killer was on one or more anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, or ADD medication.

    Adam Lanza is not listed in the main article, as this was last updated prior to his attack. Adam Lanza was also taking prescription psychoactive medication.

    I know correlation is not causation, but I see a stronger direct link between the psychoactive medication and violent behavior than I do between inflammation and violent behavior. Not saying that I don’t think there’s any relation between n-6 and violence, just that the psychoactive drug relationship is substantially stronger.

    If other people agree and think that the link is worth following up on, then I think we ought to publicize this in order to direct public attention towards useful changes, ie reducing the use of psychoactive medication. Yeah, we have about the same chance of making an impact there as we do in reducing public reliance on industrial seed oils, I’m sure 🙁

    • Hi Ed,

      Psychiatric drugs are mentioned as a possible cause in the last bullet of the Psychology Today post.

      I think multiple causes must be in place to generate such extreme behavior. So it will typically be the case that killers are eating bad diets, have disrupted circadian rhythms, be taking drugs, and so forth.

      • You might be given the drug initially to medicate the anguish or the behaviours caused by the high-PUFA, high-GI, high sugar, allergenic diet.

      • Paul, usually the more reasoned position (ie yours) is correct, but I can’t help shaking the feeling that if you gave 100 idealized perfectly healthy hunter-gatherer men aged 13-25 some anti-depressants or anti-psychotics, you’d see some seriously bad behavior. I’ve known personally some folks who had taken SSRIs and heard their stories of the intensity of their response. At least n-6 has some dietary precedence, even if not in today’s concentrations. We have no evolutionary defense against Paxil.

        Anyway thanks for responding. Sorry I don’t have anything more concrete to add besides my intuition & anecdotes.

  4. I have no doubt this is the case. In my family, eating high-carbohydrate diets results in ADHD, chronic fatigue-type symptoms, depression, insomnia,eating disorders, etc. along with the expected obesity, “diabetes,” high blood pressure, etc. For us, grains, sugar, and starches are truly “crazy-making.” (My very “ADHD” son recently attended a yoga retreat where the menus were basically potato soup and watermelon and he literally thought he was going to go mad). Those of us who have eliminated the above and eat high-fat, no-processed food diets have reversed all of our problems and stabilized our mental health as well.

    • Peggy – please see my post below. My experience is the same, though it’s early days. This is like a light going on after 20 years! Craig

  5. I did think of your circadian rhythm chapter when I read that Lanza spent all his time in the windowless basement of his house.

    Glad you wrote that post on Psychology Today.

  6. I think the psychotropic drugs are a stronger factor in causing the school shootings. We had no school shootings prior to a few decades ago, when psychotropic started to get prescribed to teenagers.

  7. thanks.
    i left a comment there as “PHK”


  8. Another famous vegetarian was Adolph Hitler. He couldn’t tolerate the idea of hurting or killing animals for food. So he killed millions of people. Perhaps if he had never become a vegetarian millions of lives could have been saved. He was also a big advocate of gun control.

  9. Hey Paul I know this unrelated to the post above but having a hard time finding the right place. I just read the section on fructose and PUFA’s and was curious what you thought…. We love salads with fruit on them at my house.. I use macadamia nut oil in the dressings I make which puts them under 2% Pufas.. is this small pufa content something I should still be worried about in terms of mixing it with fruit in my salads?

  10. Interesting article! I’ve been convinced for a while that most mental illness could be improved or cured with diet changes. I think our society’s culture (violent movies, etc..) has something to do with it, but I really believe that diet plays a huge role as well.

    I think it’s fascinating that Adam Lanza was vegan! I know I didn’t feel right when I was vegan. Or even when I was vegetarian. I wonder if he could’ve had a b12 deficiency? A friend of mine is very adamant about the importance of b12, and is pretty opposed to vegan diets for that reason. She told me that a b12 deficiency can really affect how you function mentally. When I was vegan, I definitely had issues with anxiety, and they went away when I moved towards a more Paleo diet.

    It frustrates me so much that psychiatrists and psychologists don’t think to tell their patients to change their diets. Like you said in your article, the brain is an organ, and you can’t just ignore that fact! If the food you eat affects your heart and your liver, why wouldn’t it affect your brain, too? It’s astonishing to me that Western medicine can have such a massive hole in it.

    • Hi Alyssa,

      It is amazing that diet gets so little emphasis. The medical community bet the house on the pharmaceutical drug approach — we alter human biology to treat disease, not the human environment — and it turned out to be the wrong approach.

  11. I think murderous rampages can be partially blamed on bad diet, and guns, of course.
    Here in Australia our Prime Minister many years ago reacted immediately to a tragic massacre and had a country wide”buy back” of guns and tightened accessibility considerably and we haven’t had anything like it since. Guns are rarely seen,except in shooting ranges and American TV shows.. I hope your country comes to it’s senses, but alas, sadly it probably won’t happen… Only hope then IS diet improvement…go hard Paul and Sou-Ching. God bless you.

    • Shelley (and the rest of the readers here), I apologize in advance for this response. I don’t think this is the right forum to debate gun control. However, since Shelley brought it up, I thought it might be useful to remind folks that perspective matters.

      Just as statins may reduce heart disease mortality but not all-cause mortality (which one do you care about?), gun control may reduce gun violence but not all-cause violence.

      I think there is a trade-off in any given society between gun violence and non-gun violence.

      People, please don’t allow your (correct) horror at gun violence prevent you from keeping the bigger picture in mind.

      Post gun control in Australia, “Australian women are now raped over three times as often as American women.” Correlation is not causation, yes. Something to keep in mind when prescribing future courses of action, though.


      Again I apologize for the interlude… I promise I will not post again on this topic regardless of anyone else’s response here.

  12. For obvious reasons (below) I am using a pseudonym here. I only started PHD eating last week but already (forget the weight for a second) I am sensing an amazing transformation in my MOOD above all else.

    What I mean by this is that it seems as though the anxiety, sleeplessness and depression that have plagued me for 20 years are disappearing. I also no longer feel hungry and feel more content – in a way that’s hard to explain – not just physically, but psychologically as well.

    For the record, I used to eat 50-60% carbs before PhD and consumed around 3 alcoholic drinks per day. As part of cutting out sugar I’ve cut out alcohol and reduced total carbs to around 30-35% of intake consistent with PHD.

    Has there been any academic work on the effect of excess carbs on mood? Is it linked to blood sugars? As part of the process, I’ve also reduced my n-6s and am trying to eat as much naturally occurring n-3s as possible, as well as using coconut oil in cooking.

    As I say, it’s early days but these are stunning signs. Anyone else having the same experience?

  13. Just read this interesting article linking lead exposure with overall crime rates.

  14. you guys are great on health, but overall violence levels are going down! if you mentioned it in your, piece, my apologies.
    did you see this article in motherjones about the possible link of lead to violence rates?

    • Hi Phil,

      Violence has been going down recently in the US but is still higher than in 1950; in other countries it has been increasing.

      I did see the Mother Jones article, it is an intriguing correlation, whether there is a causal relationship is controversial. It’s another possibility to add to the list.

      • the murder rate has dropped in NZ since a peak in the 1980s. Lead was removed from petrol about then; but also, methamphetamine use became widespread here at the time the curve began to drop.
        It is just possible that meth use has disabled enough of the criminal community to impact on the crime rate.

  15. I just read this in the Daily Beast. Disclaimers etc but here:

    “Her friend Ellen Adriani told The Daily Beast that Nancy had been teaching Adam how to cook the vegan food he liked.”

    Vegan food, life in a windowless basement, psychiatric drugs and easy access to automatic weapons and bottomless clips. He was six feet tall and 110 lbs So very sad. 🙁 .

  16. Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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