Violence, Sociopathic Behavior, Juvenile Delinquency,
the metals toxicity & nutritional connection
Toxic Metals and Criminality
By Jack Challem
Some 30 years ago when Bill Walsh, Ph.D., was working as a
scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and doing volunteer work at
Stateville Prison in Illinois, he asked himself: Why would one brother
become a law-abiding citizen and the other a lifelong criminal?
People have asked themselves the same question for thousands of
years, going back at least to the biblical story of Cain and Abel. "I
had always believed people were the result of their life experiences,"
says Walsh. "But in working with prisoners and their families, I found
'Brady Bunch' families with a criminal son."
The contradiction sent Walsh on a journey that, synchronistically,
led him to Carl Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D., a nutritionally oriented
physician. Pfeiffer understood how levels of essential and toxic metals
could affect behavior, and he suggested that Walsh, an analytical
chemist, was well suited to further investigate the problem.
In the 1970s, with other Argonne scientists and state-of-the-art
analytical equipment, Walsh studied mineral levels in the hair of 24
pairs of brothers. In each case, one brother was "good" and the other
was a "boy from hell." Mineral levels in the hair, explains Walsh,
reflect those of the rest of the body.
The results stunned him. The good-natured boys had normal mineral
levels, but the delinquents had two distinctive mineral patterns: One
pattern consisted of very high copper and very low zinc, sodium and
potassium; the other consisted of very low zinc and copper, and very
high sodium and potassium. Most of the troublemakers also had lead and
cadmium levels three times higher than those of their well-behaved
Walsh found the same mineral patterns in a group of 192 adults,
half incarcerated criminals and half law-abiding adults. He also found
specific behavioral traits that matched each mineral pattern. People
with the first pattern would repeatedly lose their temper "like a
volcano going off," and later feel remorse. People with the second
mineral pattern never seemed to have a good day, were mean and cruel,
oppositionally defiant, had no remorse and would have been described as
Mineral Metabolism Disorder
"It turned out that the violent kids were born with a metal
metabolism disorder, an inability to properly manage trace minerals,"
explains Walsh. "This disorder is related to poor metallo- thionein
activity in the gut." Metallothionein, a protein needed for the
absorption of zinc, also plays key roles in detoxifying hazardous
metals, such as lead and cadmium. Often, metallothionein levels can be
boosted with supplemental zinc and other minerals.
In 1983, Walsh founded the Health Research Institute as a
nonprofit corporation, and left Argonne five years later to pursue his
newfound passion full time. Today, the complex, located in Naperville,
Ill., consists of the research institute, the Pfeiffer Treatment Center
and a compounding pharmacy for patients. The staff includes three
physicians and eight nurses. Walsh is the center's chief scientist.
Walsh can tell stories that would make a Stephen King novel seem
tame. Over the years, he has conducted hair mineral analysis of 28
serial killers and mass murderers, including Charles Manson. All of them
fell into the two abnormal mineral patterns, with lead and cadmium
levels typically being elevated. Manson had one of the most extreme
mineral patterns among the 14,000 patients in the center's database.
"Manson always blamed his behavior on how he grew up," says Walsh. "But
based on the mineral analysis, he would have been that way regardless of
how he was brought up."
The overall focus of the Health Research Institute and Pfeiffer
Treatment Center, however, is on treating less chilling behavioral
disorders in children and adults. The center works with patients who
have violent and delinquent behavior, attention-deficit disorder,
autism, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Interestingly,
some well-known but temperamental professional sports figures have also
been treated here.
In a recent study, not yet published, Walsh analyzed 207
consecutive (i.e., random) patients diagnosed with behavioral disorders,
including temper tantrums, destructive behavior and assaults, all of
whom were treated nutritionally at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center. Of the
assaultive patients who followed their prescribed diet and took
supplements, 92% showed improvement and 58% completely eliminated this
type of behavior. Similarly, 80% of destructive patients improved, 53%
completely. Of those patients displaying verbal outbursts, 92% got
better, with 11% completely eliminating this type of behavior.
Prison Studies With Diet and Vitamins
Like Walsh, Stephen J. Schoenthaler, Ph.D., a sociology professor
at the Stanislaus campus of California State University, near Turlock,
has also found a powerful link between nutrients and behavior. Twenty
years of studies have made Schoenthaler, originally a skeptic, a
believer in the benefits of nutrition and supplements. His conclusion:
"People should be held responsible for what they eat, just like they are
held responsible for when they drink and drive."
Schoenthaler and his colleagues have studied nutrition and
behavior at juvenile and adult correctional facilities and in public
schools. Sometimes the results have been startling. For example, one
study of juvenile delinquents and adult felons in five states found that
the "offenders with the worst behavior consumed the least vitamins and
minerals." In California prisons, convicts with up to four nutritional
deficiencies were 50% more likely to be involved in serious violent
incidents, and those with five to nine nutrient deficiencies were 90%
more likely to be involved in such incidents.
In a study of 8,000 teenagers at nine juvenile correctional
facilities, Schoenthaler arranged to have diets high in sugar and other
refined carbohydrates replaced with diets high in fruits, vegetables and
whole grains. The change was attributed to budget cuts, so inmates did
not realize they were in an experiment. During the year in which diets
were changed, violent and anti-social incidents in the institutions
decreased by almost half.
In the 1980s, Schoenthaler was involved in a study that changed
the nutritional content of school lunches served to 1.1 million New York
City public school students. In just one year, a more wholesome diet led
to a 16% increase in academic performance and a 41% decrease in the
number of learning-disabled children.
Schoenthaler has achieved similar results simply by adding a
common daily multivitamin/mineral supplement to the diets of
delinquents, adult felons and ordinary elementary school children. In
one investigation, people receiving a multivitamin/mineral supplement
displayed less anti-social or violent behavior, compared with those
receiving a placebo. "The most common vitamins found to be low among
children whose conduct and academic performance improved after
nutritional intervention are vitamins B6 and C, folic acid, thiamine and
niacin," he says.
How have prison authorities responded to Schoenthaler's research?
At one institution, switching from processed to natural foods reduced
the food budget by 39%. But sometimes good news can be embarrassing. In
Alabama, dietary improvements at a juvenile facility led to impressive
reductions in anti-social behavior. "But the authorities didn't like the
findings because it showed that they had been previously warehousing
kids, not rehabilitating them," Schoenthaler explained at the 15th
International Conference on Human Functioning, held last fall in
The Role of Food Allergies
When working with juvenile patients, psychiatrist Priscilla
Slagle, M.D., of Palm Springs, Calif., sees irritability, anger and
aggressiveness as common signs of food allergies. Slagle, author of The
Way Up From Down (Random House, 1987), a classic book on how nutrition
can improve depression, points out that people are often addicted to the
same foods they are allergic to. People can self-test themselves simply
by avoiding suspect foods, such as wheat or dairy, for a couple of weeks
and seeing if they feel better.
"I would also look at the overall quality of the diet, as well as
evaluating for allergies, and for signs of blood sugar instability,"
explains Slagle. "Because patient compliance is often an issue with
teenagers, it may be easier for them to take supplements than to change
the diet." Among the supplements that might be helpful: B complex,
calcium/magnesium and 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan).
For the average stressed-out person-not a delinquent or
criminal-Slagle advises limiting caffeine intake to one serving daily,
and cutting out sugar, white-flour food products and alcohol for three
to four weeks-"just to see if these changes make a difference."
Nutritional deficiencies, mineral-metabolism disorders and food
allergies may all be at play in delinquent and criminal behavior. But
it's hard not to be drawn back to Walsh's elegant research on mineral
imbalances and deficiencies. While it may not be fair to make a sweeping
generalization, zinc levels seem to be consistently low among habitual
criminals. The body needs zinc to make four metallothionein compounds,
which play crucial roles in brain maturation during infancy and in
protecting against brain-damaging metals, such as lead and cadmium.
In his most recent finding, Walsh found that children with autism
have very high copper levels relative to zinc. He says that such a ratio
reflects poor metallothionein function that, during infancy, would
increase susceptibility to lead, cadmium and even mercury poisoning. The
idea is intriguing, and it might explain why infant vaccinations have
sometimes triggered autism, says Walsh. Mercury is used to preserve
The bottom line in all this: Bad behavior-and a mean streak-may be
more the result of mean minerals than mean streets. Looking to the
future, Walsh believes that measuring mineral patterns in children might
identify those at risk of becoming delinquents and criminals-at a time
when dietary changes can be easily made.
CASES FROM THE FILE
Bill Walsh, Ph.D., of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in
Naperville, Ill., says that each patient is prescribed an individually
tailored diet and supplement program. Because of this, we've avoided
indicating the specifics because they might not be suited to everyone.
Michael, 15 years old, had been incarcerated in an East
Coast residential facility for violent behavior. Reluctantly, officials
allowed him to receive an individualized multivitamin/mineral supplement
program from the Pfeiffer Treatment Center. After one month on the
program, he felt better, more athletic and less violent. By the second
month he was symptom-free, and was released after one more month.
Cory, 5 years old, the son of a convict, was verbally
abusive and threatened to burn his mother's hand and chop off her head.
Tests indicated numerous nutritional deficiencies and imbalances,
including an inborn defect in zinc and vitamin-B6 metabolism called
pyroluria. After treatment with individually tailored vitamin and
mineral supplements, he became more loving, contemplative and better
able to deal with stressful situations.
Albert, at age 3, was killing hamsters and a year later,
killed the family's pet cat. He hit his sister in the face with a brick
and threatened to kill his mother. After taking vitamin and mineral
supplements for 10 months, he was doing exceptionally well at school,
was accepted into the scouts and had no behavioral problems.
Ludwig von Beethoven wasn't a criminal, but the 18th-century
composer did suffer a variety of health problems. Some researchers
believed these health problems were the result of mercury treatments for
venereal disease. Last year, Walsh analyzed minerals in a lock of
Beethoven's hair. It contained extraordinarily high levels of lead,
which suggests that mercury treatments created a susceptibility to lead
The Pfeiffer Treatment Center,
www.hriptc.org and Priscilla
Slagle, M.D., www.thewayup.com
Schoenthaler, SJ "Effect of Nutrition on Crime,
Intelligence, Academic Performance and Brain Function" Presented at the
15th International Conference on Human Function, Sept. 22-24, 2000,