Dr John Briffa: Crime and nourishment

I'm a great believer in the idea that relatively small changes in our nutritional status bring big benefits in the long term. So I was very interested to read the recent British research showing that giving basic nutrients to young offenders significantly reduced their criminal tendencies. The idea that the answer to the youth crime epidemic in the UK may be found on the shelves of our local health food store might seem a little far-fetched, but there is good reason to believe there is some truth in this. It is a plain and simple fact that our mood and behaviour are, to a degree, dependent on the nutrients the brain gets from the diet. No wonder then that more and more research is stacking up to suggest that altering this organ's fuel supply can take the edge off a tendency towards delinquency.

Scientists have been exploring this idea for about 20 years now. Early research discovered that individuals eating an unhealthy diet were more likely to commit serious offences compared to those consuming relatively healthy fare. More than this, there is evidence that sprucing up the diet can help to quell a violent or aggressive streak. In one study, adding more fruit and vegetables to the diet of inmates at a juvenile detention centre, while at the same time cutting back on their intake of sugar and soft drinks, led to halving the number of disciplinary incidents.

But while healthy eating appears to offer significant benefits in terms of mood and behaviour control, this can be easier said than done. Getting a delinquent adolescent (or fully grown adult) to eschew Mars bars and Coca-Cola in preference to fresh fruit and camomile tea is no mean feat. However, as the recent British research has shown, simply dosing up individuals with nutrients in supplement form can bring about considerable benefits.

The precise role of specific nutrients in brain function is not well understood, so it makes sense to cover as many bases as possible. A decent multivitamin and mineral is a good start. In addition, 1-2g of a fish oil supplement each day (the omega-3 fats present in oily fish are renowned for their brain-regulating effects) is worth adding to the mix. These two supplements may do wonders to tame a child or adolescent who's a bit on the wild side.

One other factor that seems to be critical to the brain's normal functioning is that it gets an adequate supply of its most basic fuel - sugar. Several studies show that individuals who tend not to keep levels of sugar up in the bloodstream are more likely to be violent and aggressive. For many, just eating regular meals with healthy snacks such as fruit or nuts in between, is often very effective in keeping needlessly aggressive and intolerant tendencies at bay.

Nutrition news

Our appetite for food is a complex affair which can be affected by a myriad of factors. In recent years, scientists have discovered that a key player in appetite control is a hormone called leptin. By stimulating the desire to eat, high levels of leptin in the bloodstream are believed to be a prime cause of obesity in some people. Recent research has found that individuals who eat a lot of fish tend to have much lower levels of leptin in their bloodstream compared to non-fish eaters. It is also well known that the oils in fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines help to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. This latest study suggests that eating fish may help to keep our appetite and waistline in check, too.

Dear John

My wife and I have been trying to start a family for over a year. After a referral to a specialist, I have discovered that I have a low sperm count. Could nutrition help?
Name withheld

Healthy sperm production depends on a number of factors which can often be modified to improve fertility. Sperm production is better if the testes are kept cool. Avoid tight-fitting trousers and underwear, as these tend to raise the temperature of the testes. Showers are preferable to baths in this respect.

In addition, you should take certain nutrients that are essential for healthy sperm development. One nutrient which has been shown to improve sperm production is vitamin C. This seems to help prevent sperm from sticking together (agglutination), and also increases the percentage of normal sperm. I recommend you take 500-1000mg of vitamin C each day. Another supplement worth taking is ASC Plus, which contains a blend of nutrients, including vitamin E, the minerals zinc and selenium, and the amino acids arginine, taurine and carnitine. Take one capsule, twice a day. For this supplement, call 0121 433 3727.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.