Monday, March 21, 2005
TORONTO - Do murderers just eat the wrong things?
A surprising new study of crime and diet trends in Canada and four other countries suggests homicide rates climb as people consume more linoleic fatty acid -- a nutrient found in common bean, seed and grain oils.
Scientists behind the U.S. study suspect linoleic dampens the impact of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, which seem to stave off violent behaviour.
More research is needed to confirm the latest findings, but cutting consumption of linoleic may end up being a cheap way to reduce the "pandemic" of violence in western countries, just as diet changes are combatting heart disease, says a recently published paper in the journal Lipids.
"It has great potential public health consequences," said the paper's lead author, Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the U.S. government's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
His most recent work was prompted by study into the effects on the brain of those omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood. While the findings aren't definitive yet, six placebo-controlled experiments have suggested that eating such nutrients can make people less aggressive and violent.
In the last several decades, consumption of omega-6 linoleic fatty acid has soared in western countries. The average U.S. resident, for instance, now gets 20 per cent of their calories from linoleic-rich soybean oil -- a thousand-fold jump since the early 1900s. That linoleic acid can depress the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the body's tissues and membranes, the paper notes.
Dr. Hibbeln found a "striking" correlation between higher homicide rates in Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Australia, and Britain from 1961 to 2000 and consumption of linoleic acid.
He stresses these are preliminary findings and must be explored much further before a cause-and-effect relationship between linoleic and murder can be truly established.