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You Are Hereby Sentenced to … 5 Years of Salmon Steaks

A few months ago, Levitt blogged here about a purported link between nutrition and crime. This link derived from a study by Bernard Gesch, a physiologist at the University of Oxford, who took a group of British prisoners, divided them into a control group and an experimental group, and fed the experimental group nutrition supplements (containing vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids) while the control group got placebos. In the coming months, the control group prisoners behaved no differently than they had in the past; the experimental group, meanwhile, exhibited considerably less violence.

At the time, Levitt wrote: Far be it from me to dismiss out of hand subtle factors that have unexpected consequences on crime. Still, the link between vitamin pills and crime just doesn’t make much sense to me unless one has a reasonable theory about what it is in the supplements that could make a difference.

Now, it seems, there is a reasonable theory (at least some would call it reasonable). In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Stephen Mihm writes about the Gesch study and a second study of violent criminals in Finland, which found criminals to have “lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids than ordinary, healthy subjects. Why? Omega-3’s foster the growth of neurons in the brain’s frontal cortex, the bit of gray matter that controls impulsive behavior. Having enough of these fatty acids may keep violent impulses in check. Violent criminals may not be the only ones who would benefit from more fatty acids in their diet. In a recent double-blind trial, when omega-3’s were given to people with a history of substance abuse, the symptoms of ‘anger’ fell by 50 percent.”

Mihm’s article is headlined, appropriately enough, “Does Eating Salmon Lower the Murder Rate?”