The link between nutrition and antisocial behaviour
By the time that May had finished describing some examples of her 10-year-old son Colin’s antisocial deeds, she was almost inconsolable. Racked with sobs, face red and swollen, the poor woman was distraught and trembling. Her husband refused to acknowledge the boy’s existence. He came Home late from work most evenings, ate his dinner, then chain-smoked his way to bed.
Certainly, the information I’d just been given would challenge the adrenals of even the most phlegmatic and tolerant of parents.
Colin had always been a handful. Where there was noise, there one would find him: playing loud music, slamming doors or screaming over his Xbox. His language was invariably abusive towards his mother. He had scrawled graffiti over his bedroom walls. He tended to intimidate anyone smaller and younger who got in his way. He was responsible for countless broken windows in the neighbourhood.
By the end of three months Colin had — for the first time in his life — sampled a sweet, juicy orange, a baked potato in its skin with a little unsalted organic butter and chives, small tasty tomatoes, puréed sweet potatoes and even a vegetable stirfry topped with cashew nuts.
The straws that finally broke his mother’s flagging spirit had all occurred during the last six months. Colin had found a half-used bag of cement mix in one of their neighbour’s carports. He’d used it to concrete the car’s front wheels to the garage floor. After the delivery of a new dining setting, Colin had used a hammer and chisel, filched from his father’s workshop, to smash holes into the solid backs of each chair. His most recent escapade involved placing a Garden hose inside the partly open window of his mother’s car and then turning it on full bore.
I have to say that the thought of meeting the lad caused me great angst. Much to my surprise, however, instead of creating chaos and being unco-operative, Colin immersed himself in a techno-gadget and only occasionally peered up at me suspiciously through a thick thatch of straw-coloured hair.
A physical examination was roundly and soundly rebuffed but I managed to extract enough information from May to make me suspect at least one major nutritional deficiency and possibly more.
Colin was very prone to developing large bruises and had been hospitalised with several nose bleeds on two occasions. His temper was unpredictable and even hysterical at times.
His favourite foods were chips, crispy noodles, breadsticks, doughnuts, pizzas and ice cream.
Faced with the uncooperative dilemma posed by this young boy, his mother and I came to the conclusion that perhaps a promise-and-reward approach would be worthy trying.
Colin had been asking for a surfboard and surfing lessons for the last couple of years. His parents had refused repeated requests in view of his bad behaviour. They felt it was one way to punish him.
After much discussion, Colin’s mother agreed to try a different approach. She would give her son an added incentive at mealtimes. If he agreed for one week to eat a serve of creamed spinach or other tastily prepared vegetable with his chips, he could go to a movie of his choice. If he substituted a fresh mango or ripe pear for ice cream occasionally, he’d then be allowed a day at the local swimming pool.
It was very much a “foot-in-the-door” approach and there were many hiccups along the way. However, by the end of three months Colin had — for the first time in his life — sampled a sweet, juicy orange, a baked potato in its skin with a little unsalted organic butter and chives, small tasty tomatoes, puréed sweet potatoes and even a vegetable stirfry topped with cashew nuts.
As Colin’s intake of vitamin C rich foods and protein slowly improved, May was amazed and delighted to relate that her son was showing rare signs of co-operation and a greater willingness to participate in family outings. His destructive and unfruitful behaviour had minimised. At school he was less threatening in his attitude to fellow students; class insubordination had improved and he was less of a troublemaker.
After eight months on his steadily improving nutritional input, Colin — for the first time — allowed some tissue samples to be taken at one of our appointments.
The results confirmed my worst suspicions. The boy was still significantly depleted in vitamin C every one of the B complex family as well as the minerals calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Interestingly, these specific deficiencies are the ones most often correlated with behavioural problems.
As the months passed, Colin slowly continued to become less temperamental, cranky and suspicious. We were even able to eventually arrange some food sensitivity tests, which showed that the boy had a major intolerance to synthetic food colourings. As one of his favourite “treats” included layered rainbow cakes, these had to be refused. Fortunately, clever May worked out an excellent alternative based on lemon juice, natural vanilla, baking soda, some rice and coconut flour. Cut into three layers, this delicious concoction was filled with fresh strawberries and a thick paste of blended Australian organic dried unsulfured apricots and ricotta cheese. I never cease to be amazed and delighted at the inventiveness of determined mums.
Tests revealed that Colin also had an elevated level of the neurotoxic element cadmium. Iron deficiency tends to increase the absorption of this and other toxic elements. Colin’s father had always been a heavy smoker and this could have been a source of exposure.
Fortunately, the essential antioxidant glutathione is one of the most reliable ways to counteract cadmium in tissues. The best sources of this tripeptide are asparagus (which Colin hated), avocado (he grudgingly tried and eventually looked forward to), free-range eggs (he developed a real passion for these), freshly shelled walnuts (refused point blank on their own but tolerated finely-crumbed in small serves of Waldorf salad) and whey. As Colin digested dairy products without difficulty, a whey-based mango smoothie was an instant hit.
Over the years, Colin has grown into a fine young man with a promising career and very happy parents — oh, and his own surfboard.