Violence and Nutrition


By David Marsh

Just one day after the week which destroyed and ravaged thousands of lives in the USA, international researchers presented evidence in London (19. 9. 01.) of a significant correlation between people with diets lacking long chain omega 3 essential fatty acid (EFA) and incidence of depression, suicide & violence. The specific EFA is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - the highly specialised neural fatty acid contained in fish oil.

As if to underline the fact that America is still very much in business Dr Joseph Hibbeln of NIAAA / National Institutes of Health, Laboratory of Membrane Biophysics and Biochemistry, Rockville, MD, USA stepped calmly off flight UA, No 2 from Washington to Heathrow. He was here as guest lecturer at conferences in London at the Medical Society of London, and at St Annes College, Oxford (20.9.01).

He was joined by geneticist Edward Tuddenham (Imperial College, MRC) professor of Homeostasis at Hammersmith Hospital and Michael Crawford, professor of nutritional biochemistry, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry & Human Nutrition speaking at a McCarrison Society workshop - convened to discuss health implications for research & food policy following the completion of the human genome project seven months ago.

Since then researchers have been using the genetic map to further understanding within their own disciplines - in this case blood and medical /nutritional biochemistry especially essential fatty acids and cell membrane systems.

As only 35,000 rather than the expected 140-150,000 genes were found in the human genome (the genetic blue-print contained in every cell of our body and brain) many scientists now feel that the environment - largely through nutrition - is playing a more important part in living systems, and in evolution, than was previously thought.

Tuddenham explained that whilst the clotting mechanism of blood has not changed in organisms from the puffer fish 450,000,000 years ago to human beings, the incidence of coronary heart disease and thrombosis has rocketed in the last 150 years. The message sent from deep time, he suggests, is that systems that have worked perfectly well throughout evolution can become unbalanced when put into radically new environments. Our lifestyle, our systems of agriculture and thus our diets have changed radically. The consequences are seen in the epidemics - across the globe - of blood vessel disease and thrombosis, depression, suicide and mental illness.

DHA has been found to have a quality found in no other essential fatty acid - it being a perfect conductor of electrical messages - at lightening speed - around the brain and body via the central nervous system. DHA supplies half the material structure of the brain and the eyes. It is only obtainable in high quantity from marine and riverine organisms such as fish, shell fish and certain seaweeds and algae. Landlocked populations are known to be prone to DHA shortages. (We are advised to eat 2 - 3 portions of oily fish each week). Hibbeln also found that alcohol and tobacco cut down the ability of the body to use DHA by 30% as did certain foods, for example soya oil.

The workshop, attended by delegates from Japan, America, and Europe and represented by top UK universities and pressure groups, was chaired by Chris Branford-White, Head of School of Biological & Applied Sciences, University of North London.

The McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health was founded in honour of the late Sir Robert McCarrison, a research doctor funded by the Medical Research Council, who was arguably Britain*s most important nutritional pioneer of the first half of the last century. The Society*s scientific members come from many disciplines, many of whom have connections with universities and research groups across the globe.

The Society has also many lay members and has for 40 years acted as an international meeting place (news-group) for everyone concerned with the preservation and improvement of our foodchain and the restoration of our soils. The Society is currently expanding its parameters and broadening its membership .

David Marsh 23/9/2001