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Vitamins for convicts could save taxpayers' money (orthomolecular.org)
172 points by friendly_chap on Jan 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments

Fifteen years ago, the BBC reported that a double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that adding vitamins to the diets of inmates at a maximum security institution cut offences by 25%. The greatest reduction was for serious offences, including violence which fell by 40%.

This in no way surprises me. I had this thought a year or so ago that we ought to provide better nutrition in prison as a primary means of rehabilitation. I think I tried to blog about it and it didn't go well. I eventually moved on.

But I am glad to see this article. I hope this idea gets acted upon, the sooner, the better.

I know and have known so many non-convicted people who turn angry, grumpy and sometimes violent when they are even 30 to 60 minutes late eating a meal. One person in particular sticks out. I could easily see how if his diet were suddenly cut of essential vitamins and nutrients he'd most certainly have the same effect without knowing why. In my head I'd equate the results of such a thing happening being even worse because of the compounding frustration and lack of understanding for why coupled with the feeling of not having eaten a proper, hunger satiating meal.

Now imagine those people living on basically coffee, cigarettes and sugar. I remember reading the original BBC article years ago and that’s what they found a significant population of inmates were doing.

After adding basically a 100% RDA vitamin and a fish oil pill, many of them reported being amazed to discover having self control for the first time in their lives.

Thank you.

even worse because of the compounding frustration and lack of understanding for why coupled with the feeling of not having eaten a proper, hunger satiating meal.

In the case of the current prison population, it is even worse than that because they are simply assumed to be violent, maladjusted etc and no one at all wonders if their health impacts it, even in cases where they have a diagnosis of being HIV positive or having TB. When a middle class person is having a health crisis and acts out, the odds are good that people will cut them some slack and hope they feel better soon. When a prisoner does so, hey, he is just a criminal with no redeeming value and we should lock him up and throw away the key.

I'm sure it's written somewhere, tucked away, that keeping prisoners, captives or other types of incarcerated criminals and POW's on a bare minimum diet (2000 calories maybe?) sets a certain sort of tone to either get a desired effect out of those locked away or make them vulnerable to questioning if not reduced to only having enough energy for one short burst of energy in the event of a physical altercation.

Of course this has to be against all sorts of laws and conventions so I doubt it's publicly traded knowledge but the whole idea reminds me of the grey area psychologists and interrogation specialists tend to talk about when topics like water boarding and other torture / effective interrogation methods are questioned.

IIRC jail (not prison) food is specifically designed to make people lethargic.

Using food as something that can be modified to achieve a desired behavior is not a new thing. Applying scientific methods to it is more recent.

You are lucky to get 2000 calories a day

About three months ago I started taking 1500mg elemental of magnesium per day as 500mg magnesium chelate capsules providing 10mg elemental (15 capsules per day) for about a month. I've dropped back to maintenance dose of between 600 and 1200mg elemental per day.

Historically, I have a couple of basic assault charges, an assault with sexual intent charge, I was charged with two counts of trafficking a controlled drug (later dropped), ~13 year history of meth-amphetamine use and abuse. I've always had a short fuse, quick to anger, often frustrated, easily startled. My primary school nickname was "Psycho".

More recently I've started taking 6000 - 10,000 IU of Vitamin D as well.

Now, I know what I am, and I'll tell you: my moral compass; it's fucked. But since I've been taking a boat load of magnesium and D I feel way more calm and in control; I can easily shrug off all sorts of things that have historically rubbed me the wrong way. Suicidal ideation as completely disappeared, I don't feel anxious or depressed any more.

The difference has been night and fucking day.

I was never officially diagnosed, but one of my sisters has a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, I've recently convinced her to start taking the same regime. She commented just two days ago that someone dropped something next to her at the supermarket that made a loud noise, where in the past she would have jumped out of her skin and felt disturbed for the rest of the day, this time she didn't even flinch.

When I am throwing up or feverish, I rapidly get magnesium deficient. It makes me both noise and light sensitive. The noise sensitivity side effect of magnesium deficiency is well known in some alternative remedy circles I used to hang in. When I start complaining about noise, we work at getting magnesium into me via food choices like cashews or dark chocolate. Chocolate covered cashews are on today's grocery list because I have been mildly light and noise sensitive for days and we failed to get them yesterday.

If you need magnesium, you probably also need calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K. IIRC, magnesium and calcium should be taken in a 2 to 1 ratio. Since you have already added vitamin D, you might consider adding calcium and vitamin K.

Like magnesium, calcium is another mineral known to have calming effects.

If you are up for additional experimenting, search for Celtic Sea Salt. It is sold online. It is not only a high quality salt, it has a high percentage of micro nutrients. I no longer need it, in part because I moved to a coastal area where those nutrients are available for free in the very air, but it played a critical role in my healing process, especially when combined with the right carbs (aloe or potato, basically) and healthy fats, like MCT oils.

~13 year history of meth-amphetamine use and abuse.

FWIW, I view this is as self medicating for unidentified health issues (whether physical or mental health or both). I firmly believe treating the underlying health issues can help put a stop to it.

My father drank very heavily for years while he was in the military. He quit after he left the military. He did so without ever going to any kind of treatment program. This fact has had a strong influence on my views of addiction. I do not buy the 12 step program model of demonizing both drugs and the people who take them. I think that model is actually harmful to people and makes the problem worse. I firmly believe drug use is done for a reason and if you can resolve the root causes behind it, it can just stop because you don't need it anymore, without necessarily doing any wrestling with it.


often frustrated,

For me, severe frustration is evidence of a selenium deficiency.

I wonder how much of an effect nutrition has on causing people to become criminals (and other anti-social behavior) in the first place.

I remember reading an article here a few years ago saying that in a lot of low-income neighbourhoods in the US, the only food options are relatively unhealthy. There are no proper grocery stores nearby, and the residents can’t afford to travel further to them, so they are stuck eating whatever unhealthy and low nutrition food the local corner store has (e.g. frozen fries and pasta instead of fresh fruit and vegetables).

I have a serious medical condition that makes it difficult to get the nutrients I need. I fairly often have somatopsychic side effects from this. I resolve those issues by figuring out what nutrient I need extra of.

The incident that caused me to think that nutrition should be part of prison rehab was one where I was just inexplicably mad as hell and we resolved it by feeding me an orange every day for the vitamin C. I was like "Holy cow! I bet just getting the right nutrients into prisoners would make them less prone to violence and other problem behaviors."

So as a wild guess: This is probably a significant factor.

Prison food is the absolute worst in the nation. I used to tutor at prisons. An inmate told me that a wet chicken patty, shaken in a bag of fritos, and then heated on a hot plate was considered a gourmet meal in prison. If we are going to put people in prison, we should at least give them healthy, nutritious food. Vitamins and supplements would do tremendously to fill in the gap.

There's a reason why after the total smoking bans in American prisons, cigarettes were displaced as a de facto currency by... instant ramen.

And Tuna packets!

there are other way to "punish proactively", malnutrition is not one of them, it's silly.


The argument that "there are starving people in Africa, so the most unfortunate in the US should just count their blessings" is incredibly tiresome and essentially justifies an abusive system. Can we not do this?

You're missing the point. Getting to eat chicken with Fritos is not abuse.

Being forced to eat chicken and Fritos, in spite of having serious health problems that they exacerbate, absolutely is abuse. This also goes on in the treatment of the homeless in the US where they are told to be grateful to have any food at all, never mind that it is making their diabetes or other health issues worse and will lead to an early death, the need to amputate a foot and/or other horrors.


Moving the goal posts entirely away from the current discussion of food in no way justifies your initial comment. Stating it in a manner that kind of implies I hold certain unpalatable views and would advocate for putting people in prison as a form of housing doesn't make me sympathetic.

There are lots and lots of things wrong in the world. That fact is absolutely not justification for pissing on an idea that is simple, cheap, effective and has real merit as just one piece of the solution to the large puzzle of deeper problems in the US.

Nutrition has played a very, very large role in my ability to solve my personal problems, raise my income and get off the street. It also has played a very large role in gradually making me more psychologically stable. I didn't say that in my initial comment elsewhere in this discussion because I get tired of being told I talk too much about myself, I am just an attention monger, it is merely anecdotal, etc etc etc. But that is why I had the thought that nutrition in prison could play a very serious role in actual rehabilitation.

If you posit that most people in prison are from generally marginalized and poor populations, you can assume many of them never had proper nutrition at all in their lives. Feeding them well so they can grow both stronger and mentally better could be a small means to make prison a way to break the cycle of poverty and desperation, a small means for society to try to make real amends instead of merely heaping more abuse on such people.

Ideally, I would like to see more non-prison programs that are civilized, civilizing, caring and all that. But those are quite hard to create. It is hard to make good programs.

These people are some of the most ill, most destitute, most crapped on by society. None of your points here in any way whatsoever justifies advocating that they should merely be grateful for their chicken and Fritos and otherwise fuck 'em, they can quit their bitching.

>If the people should not be there in the first place, and if they should be rehabilitated instead of punished, that's another matter and should be solved on its face

No, the point of prison IS rehabilitation not punishment. It is senseless, stupid and cruel to punish people even if that does not improve their behavior - it helps no one. And prison is not EITHER punishment OR rehab, its a mix, and the more we move it towards rehab the better it is for everyone.

Besides, your argument is "oh some people in Africa can't eat chicken, so what the fuck is anyone complaining about?" is ridiculous. Some people don't get vaccinations, healthcare, shelter either so by that logic why don't we just throw all the prisoners onto an island huh?

Prisoners are people, not subhuman trash to be discarded as you would like.

Actually the point you made was that it should be considered a gourmet meal, which is slightly different to the argument that it is not abuse.

I'm allergic to chicken- I wouldn't be able to keep it down. So it would be pretty awful for me personally.

There are 100s of millions of vegetarians on this planet. I don't think eating meat or not has much to do with starvation.

If you are going to move the prison population to vegetarian diets, you also need to account for things they may or may not be getting, such as vitamin B12 or vitamin D. It is much easier to feed a group of people a healthy, balanced diet if you use meat products or have the sense to give everyone a good-grade multi-vitamin to be sure. Unfortunately, that makes it harder in the US because of the lax laws surrounding supplements.

I would be the first person to say, as a vegetarian, that forcing everyone in prison to be a vegetarian would be wrong. But that's not the idea that I was responding to: the idea I was responding to is the notion that vegetarians are starving.

By all means, take a vitamin if you need one.

I've been to jail, and it is worse than in Africa

Name me a demographic impacted by famine which also doesn`t consume meat.

> There are more Americans incarcerated per capita than in any other Westernized country on earth... With well over two million Americans behind bars, and even with more prisons being built literally every day...

This is madness. Period. Something is being done fundamentally wrong and going catastrophically too far. Simply building more prisons is not a solution.

And the fact the convicts are not given vitamins and other essential nutrients supplements has always seemed ridiculous and outrageous to me. Simply terminating them could be more humane than keeping them junk-fed letting their bodies and brains decay freely, taking not just their freedom but also their health (including mental health) away from them. This is not a way you can cure people from their behaviour disorders.

> Average USA cost to keep one inmate locked up for a year: $31,000

By the way, any person that would earn this much a year is considered rich in Eastern Europe and Russia, the majority of people there live on less than $1000/month and those of them who care about health still get all the vitamin/mineral/aminoacid supplements and sound healthcare they need (+ education, sport, yoga/minfulness classes, entertainment, travelling, living etc) . Needless to say almost none of the people who earn $1000/month or more are prone to commit felony there (unless they drink a way too much booze), they just live happily usually as they have everything they need, feel safe and satisfied. This suggests that just giving the $31,000 or less to a man will probably do much better for him and the society than spending it on keeping him in the dreadful conditions described in the article. This reminds me of the idea of basic income again...

I live in a post-Soviet country and here the average wage is €500/mo. However compared to the US you don’t need to pay healthcare or education, a lot of people own their homes (without large debts, as the ownership was transferred to them or their parents after the USSR fell), people are a lot happier taking public transport, and they get 4 weeks paid holiday a year.

So it’s not quite that simple... but yes there is probably a better way to spend the money than it is now.

Here is another article that helps support the connection between vitamin deficiencies and mental illness:


Might be a hard sell since recidivism is profitable.

Erh... sorry.

This is a webpage about "orthomolecuar medicine". This isn't a real thing, it's a quack theory that vitamins are some wonder drug that help against everything. It's been largely discredited.

The evidence for vitamin supplements is extremely clear: Except for some rare circumstances (special deficiencies and illnesses) they are largely a waste of money.

>Except for some rare circumstances (special deficiencies and illnesses)

You're begging the question by labeling vitamin deficiencies in this population as "rare." But that's not true.

"Vitamin D deficiency occurred in 50.5% of blacks, 29.3% of whites, and 14.3% of Asian inmates (p = 0.007). Black inmates had significantly lower serum 25(OH)D level than white inmates at the maximum security level (p = 0.015), medium security level (p = 0.001), but not at the minimum security level (p = 0.40). After adjusting for covariates black inmates at a maximum security level had a four-fold higher risk for vitamin D deficiency than white inmates at the same security level (OR 3.9 [95% CI 1.3–11.7]."


Why Vitamin D? Because the 600 IU RDA (the amount prisons must legally put in their food) is way too low.

Considering how cranky I get if I miss my vitamin D, it's not hard to posit a link between deficiency and increases in aggressive/violent behavior, especially in populations with a high rate of pre-existing mental illness.

>>Except for some rare circumstances

Athletes and those who don't get enough sun, like most in the northern parts of the United States with the abrupt switch to being indoors far more than usual in the last 100 years?

It's not that rare. If you mean the bullshit industry, sure, but this attitude of "all vitamins are obtained through food" is simply not true and been proven repeatedly false - especially for athletes.

Well, when there's political reasons to make prisoners eat as badly as possible ("government spends taxpayer dollars on good meals for prisoners, news at 11!") then vitamins might be a stupid but expedient way to keep prisoners healthier without provoking vindictive public sentiment.

I kept scrolling down hoping someone would call out this pseudoscience.

Thank you!

This is the correct answer. I can’t believe smart people fall for this kind of bullshit so frequently.

Can you identify the bullshit that you have fallen for? What bullshit ideas do you believe right now? If you can't self-correct, you're just the same as them, with a different set of bullshit beliefs.

Prisons should be seen as training camps where convicts are re-shaped into good citizens.

If they means vitamins, so be it. If that means having the inmates run a vegetable garden, so be it.

I know I'm rambling but sometimes it helps to state the obvious.

Funny, because in my country an euphemism for "going to prison" is "going to university" (thieving & violence university that is) where they meet all those advanced practitioners of the art.

"con(vict) college" is a popular term in the USA too

the big question to answer is, are prisoners short enough on vitamins and nutrients to increase the likelyhood of disease?

If yes, then a Vitamin pill Might fix the problem - although vitamins pills are impressively high in vitamins and minerals, the absorption in the body could be quite limited. but, if it does fix the TB and disease problem, then its probably a great investment. I mean you can get like half a years worth of vitamin pills for just 30$.

But, if Vitamin pills aren't being absorbed properly, then we'll need to feed them foods high in vitamins. Depending on the deficiency, we can find the foods that are the very highest in a nutrient using my tool here: https://kale.world/c

This tool can find the foods with the very highest nutrient density for vitamins:A,b,c,e,k and lots of minerals, etc.

For instance, we all know Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy. So, if you use the tool, you'll see that the top sources for vitamin C are: red peppers, broccoli, kale, cauliflower. They are so high in vit C, they would only need a small amount of it, to reach their daily recommended amount. As little as 40 cals of broccoli gets you to your RDA.

Wouldn't it just be cheaper to give them healthier food? At least it is the common sense medical advice: "you don't need vitamins, just a healthy diet".

Or gardens. They have the time to tend a garden and feed chickens and collect eggs.

I'm guessing a third party has a fat contract to provide bad food.

Sheriffs literally get to keep the money left over from the prison food budget in Alabama.


And more effective. IIRC, while vitamin deficiencies have been shown to cause problems, vitamin supplements haven't been shown to "fix" that problem [0]. You can't eat food with no nutritional value and then add the vitamins back in...that doesn't work. You need to eat food that has the vitamins to begin with.

[0] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy...

>> At least it is the common sense medical advice: "you don't need vitamins, just a healthy diet".

You also need sun (Vitamin D), which is not always an option for prisoners kept inside for 24 hours per day.

You can get vitamin D from your diet.

A typical American diet is deficient in Vitamin D if you live in the northern parts of the United States.

I can imagine that from a bureaucratic perspective, buying vitamin pills that have an extremely long shelf life is attractive and gives the veneer of paying attention to the nutritional health of inmates.

Stopping the war on drugs and releasing the innocent would be more efficient.

Why not both?

How about feeding inmates proper food instead of the inedible garbage they are given? These are real people too, with real emotions and feelings. A lot of them have done nothing worse than smoking a joint. Society would benefit more from humanely treating its prisoners than it would offsetting the results of a malnutrition diet. The benefits would go way beyond not spreading disease or inciting violence inside the prison. It's either that or continue this same old system that says it's ok to torture prisoners with rape, malnutrition, ineffective healthcare, and legalized slavery regardless of the fact that they may be in prison for nonviolent offenses. I wonder which one will provide better results ...

People don't go to prison for smoking a joint. They go to prison for distribution or possession of large quantities. And even those people represent less than 10% of the prison population. There are certainly lots of improvements to be made to the conviction and prison system, but misinformation and hyperbole doesn't help the discussion.


There is some truth to both sides. First, there is a difference between "jail" and "prison". Jail most commonly refers to a county, city, municipal lockup. This is an individual's first stop on their way to prison (assuming they are found guilty). When you are first arrested you are taken to jail. At this point in the criminal justice system, there is no proof of "innocence" or "guilt". To be arrested the officer only needs to have probable cause. In many cities, counties, states simply possessing a joint is enough to get your arrested and taken to jail. Once in jail the problem begins, and this is a huge issue in criminal justice reform. Many of those arrested for simple possession of joint are poor and can not afford a cash bail system. This leaves them stranded in jail until their court dates which could be weeks or months down the road. Many jails face overcrowding by these individuals that have not been convicted of crimes but are simply awaiting their day in court.

So while you are correct, most people don't go to prison for smoking a joint, many do go to jail for smoking a joint. They then sit in jail awaiting their day in court to plead their case and receive their sentence which is often no more than a monetary fine.

How did he spread misinformation?

The american prison system is such insanity

While I agree prisoners aren't treated well, I'm not convinced that vitamin pills are necessarily worth while.


"If you take a multivitamin, it's probably because you want to do everything you can to protect your health. But there is still limited evidence that a daily cocktail of essential vitamins and minerals actually delivers what you expect. The latest round of studies, published in December in Annals of Internal Medicine, found no benefit from multivitamins in protecting the brain or heart."

We've seen that deficiencies cause disease, but there seems to be little evidence that vitamin supplement pills prevent it.

Following up on my own comment, here is an article that talks about 2 placebo-controlled, double-blind studies that found a decrease in violence by adding multivitamin supplements.


So that's pretty good evidence for benefits, and it is certainly a relatively inexpensive intervention.

The article makes it pretty clear that prisoners typically have diseases, and that these diseases are pretty likely caused by malnutrition.

Studies of the benefits of multivitamins for otherwise healthy people aren't really relevant.

Nutritional supplements compete with pharmaceuticals. Could there be a conflict of interest when an institution that is heavily influenced by big pharma puts out a study on their competition? http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2009/10/23/bitter-pills/

That's the Physicians' Health Study. Where the study subjects are physicians, not exactly a demographic at high risk for vitamin deficiencies, compared to prisoners.

I think the point is that many prisoners do have nutritional deficiencies. They aren't getting all the vitamins that most of us do from regular food. Of course providing them with better food would probably be a better solution than crap food plus vitamin supplements.

Dr. Gregor's research has also shown multivitamins are a distraction... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fgVDT0qw88

But these studies are on general population, different from the prison population which is probably undernourished. And the article cites a study on prisoners which shows vitamins (and supplementary fatty acids) reduce violent behavior: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/bjprcpsych/181/1/22.full.pdf

Please, it is completely different. One is a health obsessed person taking a multivitamin cocktail. Other is a person, which someone choose what they eat based on price alone, taking vitamins.

Maybe it would be cheaper just to give them healthier food.

Then you'll get people yelling about "special treatments for prisoners!".

How about no cost vitamins for everyone? Seems like that might ultimately save the tax payers money.

Really the argument can extend beyond vitamins. Meeting people's basic biological needs (adequate nutrition, shelter, clean drinking water) without pre-conditions seems like it would save a lot of problems and thus money in general.

You would think access to basic rights like food and water could be guaranteed in one of the wealthiest countries in history, where an estimated 40% of food produced goes to waste.

Instead I so often hear people and politicians rail against WIC, food stamps, and free school lunches. As if $150 month for groceries or letting infants and school children not starve is somehow too generous. We must punish people for being poor.

children who are starving are motivated to go to college... where they can get loans to pay for a meal plan.

The prison system in America is not about doing things economically or trying to rehabilitate- it's to punish the wicked for being born wicked. It's Double-Predestination Calvinism[0] in which we are the good and that's why good things happen to us, and they are the bad and so only bad things should happen to them. Why, you can see it's true by the fact that they are in prison and we are not.

Maybe we don't all think that precisely, but that attitude and feeling is the pervasive norm that allows politicians to be "tough on crime" by locking people up for longer, why calls for reform by prisoners are ignored. Once you stop considering criminals as other humans like yourself but instead mentally model them as 'bad guys', it's easy to agree to doing things harmful to them. Once they stop being humans, there's no need to have empathy for them.

There's only so many Charles Mansons out there, people too far gone to help. Most people in jail could be contributing to society if society would just help them get back up.


While, I mostly agree, this misses the profit motive of the prison industrial complex. It is a way to maintain a system of very low-cost slave labor, without actually using the word "slave".

And, it's not just private prisons that are profiting when more people go to prison (though that is among the most obvious and egregious abuses of the system). State and local prisons and jails also sell their captive labor force to the highest bidder, and use them for government work, as well, passing on only a small percentage of the proceeds to the workers.

Every American should feel a deep shame about the whole damned thing...but, as you note, we've got a real fondness for the wicked getting their just desserts, and as far as most Americans are concerned, if someone is in prison they deserve whatever horrible thing is done to them. So, "tough on crime" politicians get to make their donors happy, and nobody cares about the human lives destroyed for the profit of a few.

The cost of keeping someone in prison is way more than most prisoners could earn at similar menial jobs.

Of course, that doesn't mean that costs can be sent to the taxpayer while profits are routed to somebody else.

But that is how many things are. Once again, lobbyists manipulate lawmakers into doing things they would not do if voters had their interests more faithfully represented.

There are lots of things that people would never do if they were paying for them directly. Government contracts are notoriously padded and wasteful and often serve the interests of a select few with the right connections; it's one of the strongest arguments against big government, even if we assume the government has good intentions and is making good democratic decisions rather than oligarchic ones (which I don't think can realistically be argued to be the case here).

So, yeah, it's wasteful of taxpayer money, but also extremely profitable for the few people who have the lobbyists and the ability to exploit the system.

Punishing prisoners by feeding them unappetizing food is also a practice in some American (and Canadian) prisons, although some authorities have been reducing or banning this practice [1]. Since it's theoretically wholesome and contains enough calories, the prisons can claim that they're not doing anything abusive. In practice, it promotes outcomes similar to severely restricting the amount of food served.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/nyregion/new-york-prisons...

While I don’t doubt that many people in the US do hold that view, it’s worth noting that that such an application isn’t even remotely similar to how predestination works in any kind of Protestant theology...

Both Armenian and Calvinist views operate in the context of the doctrine of total depravity, which can be best summarised as “no one is good except God alone” (Mk 10:18). Under this framework, a Calvinist view should actually lead to increased humility (not superiority over others), because not only is grace and salvation completely undeserved, it is given in spite of a total inability to choose it of ones own accord, and a propensity to try and do the opposite.

Secondly, predestination almost entirely refers to final judgement by God alone, so to conflate a human justice system with that is a grave theological error. Especially a justice system as flawed and ineffective as the one in the United States.

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