Poor Nutrition Might be Killing Our Kids, Not Ritalin!


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

The nation suffered yet again another tragic school shooting!  And, as with previous shootings, amid the expressions of sympathy and solidarity, the pundits took to the media to share their opinions on the cause of an epidemic that continues unabated.  

One of the most recent was given by Oliver North, the new head of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  In addition to the usual suspect of violence being commonplace in our culture, Mr. North added Ritalin, a drug to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), to the mix. He went on to say that nearly all the shooters are male and that “many have been on Ritalin since kindergarten.”

Of course, it’s human nature to look for ways to make sense of out of something as tragic as school shootings by looking for a simple explanation that leads to an equally simple solution.  

If a medication such as Ritalin is the culprit, then the solution to school shootings must be as easy as stopping its use.  But it’s worth noting that in the most recent shooting, the suspect, as far as his attorneys knew, was neither diagnosed with ADHD nor was he taking Ritalin.  In fact, there is very little evidence to support the claim that many shooters had been on this medication.

One study actually found no evidence that drugs play a role in most school shootings. The majority of the shooters were, in fact, not under any kind of medical supervision (which may  have actually reduced their violent and aggressive tendencies).

Ritalin’s chemical name is methylphenidate and it is a central nervous system stimulant.  It is often used in both children and adults to controls ADHD symptoms as well as to treat narcolepsy.  Some research has shown that long-acting methylphenidate was found to be effective in the treatment of defiant and aggressive behavior in children. It may also help to reduce impulsive behavior and hyperactivity while increasing attention to tasks and school assignment.  This class of medications has been studied for almost half a century and there is no credible evidence that long-term use of them directly leads to violence or aggressive behavior.

However, perhaps, an argument can be made that like many other drugs, Ritalin may reduce appetite. This may in turn decrease the intake of critical nutrients like minerals and vitamins which are necessary for good mental health and decision making.

So, if Ritalin can’t be used as a scapegoat for the school shootings, what is behind them?  

Unfortunately, this is a very complex sociological and mental health problem that has no easy, clear-cut solution.  One area of research which does, however, hold some promise for addressing this epidemic is something as basic as nutrition. If you think about it, this makes total sense since what we eat greatly impacts mental processes and mental health, both of which influence behavior.

One study suggested that early-life poor nutrition may exert its influence on behavior by demonstrating that men whose mothers had experienced severe prenatal deficiency during the first and/or second trimesters of their pregnancies had an increased risk for antisocial personality disorder.  In the case of these men, it seems that poor nutrition in the womb, most likely followed by poor nutrition as they were growing up, predisposed them to being more aggressive and violent than their peers.

A later study demonstrated that young, violent prisoners who were provided with nutritional supplements committed significantly fewer offenses when compared to a placebo group.  

So nutrition may play a key role in how we interact with the world and especially in influencing aggressive and rule-breaking behavior.

Another thing to consider is that one trait many of the school shooters have in common is depression.  Depression may lead to violent behavior.  As with other mental health issues, nutrition and nutrient balance have also been shown to play role in managing depressive symptoms.  

How to be Proactive about school shootings?

The best thing to do is promote better mental and emotional health before resorting to prescription drugs.  One way to do this is to educate the public about a wholesome and balanced diet. A healthy diet ensures our bodies are getting all the right nutrients and in the right amounts.  If you, friends or members of your family are suffering from ADHD or depression, talk to a competent healthcare provider about incorporating the following nutrients:

  • Magnesium - Several studies have shown an improvement in the severity of symptoms of depression when study participants were given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. 
  • Chromium - Many studies have been done to assess the benefit of chromium picolinate in depression. One study showed that 70 percent who took 600 mcg of chromium picolinate had improvement in their symptoms including emotional stability. 
  • Iron - Decreased levels of iron can result in apathy, depression and fatigue. Iron is also important for oxygenation of the brain and necessary for all its functions. Studies need to be done to find out how common iron deficiency anemia is in patients with depression, and once corrected, to determine which symptoms would be improved. In the meantime, if you are depressed you should check your iron levels.
  • Selenium - Depression, because of selenium deficiency, has been established in at least five different studies. Depression may be the result of oxidative stress, which is why selenium may be helpful. Selenium has antioxidant properties. Numerous studies done on different populations and age groups suffering from depression showed improvement in mood and anxiety when given selenium. Overall, mood was also improved when selenium was given to those with depleted levels.
  • Zinc - This trace element is essential to the human body. It is involved in over 300 reactions in the body and is abundant in the brain. Many clinical studies have been done to determine the relationship between zinc and depression. Zinc levels are generally low in those with major depression. Zinc supplementation along with antidepressant therapy has been studied and has shown benefits. 
  • Copper - This mineral is important in depression because it is a component of the enzymes that metabolize the brain chemicals that help you respond to stress, feel happy and be alert. These enzymes, and the associated chemicals, are responsible for the causes and treatment of anxiety and depression. Several studies have been done on copper levels and depression, and there is an association between high levels of copper and depression. 
  • Manganese - This mineral is a large component of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and was found to be low in the depressive episode of bipolar patients compared to controls. SOD is important in anti-oxidation and many studies have established that depression is an oxidative process, or can be caused by lack of antioxidants. Chronic exposure to manganese may cause depression.
  • Calcium - There is no clear relationship between calcium and depression. Some studies found low calcium in depressed patients and others found elevated levels. However, you cannot ignore calcium’s role because it affects the levels of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is important in depression, and if your calcium is too high, it may cause your magnesium to be low, which may make your depressive symptoms harder to treat.
  • B Vitamins - Deficiencies in various vitamins including vitamin B are reported to have a negative effect on the brain. 

 For a more in-depth discussion of these nutrients as well as the foods which contain them, read here.

It is also important to avoid artificial food colors and flavors, which have been implicated in worsening ADHD symptoms. Finally, omega-3 supplements such as fish or krill may help nourish the brain and help memory and attention.

Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of healthcare and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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