Does eating paleo stimulate agression and violence?

by 273 · October 19, 2010 at 11:17 AM

This has been a question that I hear asked all the time as a yoga teacher surrounded by vegetarians. Hunter Gatherers definitely had to have an aggressive tendency that could be purely construed as survival instinct in order to hunt and think on their feet. There are arguments which may be quite unfounded against paleo eating stated by the yoga community,state that eating animal protein increases testosterone and violent tendencies. I personally feel that eating animals is in the natural cycle of things, and that paleo is the most healthy and scientifically fit way to live and eat for the most part, but can see how life percieved through the eyes of some would be more peaceful but possibly less interesting without violence and aggression in some form, if we could somehow get optimal nutrition from agriculture. Thoughts?

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4059 · October 13, 2010 at 01:17 PM

As a hunter, I can report that hunting doesn't make you any more aggressive, and in fact, is a remarkably non-aggressive practice. While I have quite literally blown the head off a rabbit with a shotgun (10' is too close with a no'6 heavy game load out of a 12-ga. with modified choke), I wouldn't dream of doing the same to a human being (barring the usual morally and legally extenuating circumstances). Aggressive behaviour against your fellow human beings has nothing to do with your natural predatory behaviour. And a lot of hunters, myself included, will tell you that the actual killing is a very small part of the hunt, and feel a great deal of empathy with the prey.

To put things into perspective, the aforementioned rabbit died instantly. At the velocity those pellets were travelling there was no way it could have felt anything. But seeing it flop around from reflex nerve action, its outline all wrong, made me feel pretty awful. Even knowing it was a perfectly humane kill.

It was very tasty, though.

It is entirely possible to have a capacity for exercising lethal violence and only exercise it in a controlled, moral, disciplined, productive manner. It is an entirely different thing from being aggressive. You should check out your local dojo or shooting range sometime to get a feel for what I mean. I'm relatively recent to hunting and the shooting sports; I started about five years ago. Having invested a lot of time and money and effort into becoming a competent shot, and having killed dinner rather a lot, I can say that if anything I am calmer and more confident in my personal life, and even less likely to resort to violence than I was previously (which given that I haven't struck another human being since the third grade, is saying a lot).

We're evolved from a long line of people who were really good at killing dinner with tools. In fact, I'm inclined to say that we might even instinctively like it.

20469 · October 13, 2010 at 05:00 AM

Eating paleo, eating healthy, and avoiding toxins have all been shown to help prevent low testosterone. I do not think it's healthy to keep testosterone unnaturally low in men, for whatever reason. If I were a man, I would not look to unnaturally low levels of testerone as a preferred mechanism of behavior control.

All that being said, my mother, who has long had a tendency to extreme moodiness and grouchiness, is MUCH nice now that she has gone paleo. I can't believe the improved level of energy and niceness she is exhibiting. I would not have thought it possible! Most people I know who have gone towards paleo eating have 'just' felt better, lost weight, etc, but for my mother, it's made a big improvement in her agreeableness in general, just the opposite of what the vegetarians are apparently saying.

Another thing to consider, insulin is well known for inhancing aggressiveness (it's a hormone after all) and hypoglycemia is well known for making people obnoxious and crabby. Diabetics heading towards dangerously too low blood sugars have been well known to sometimes become dangerous and deranged in their behavior as their brain is starved of glucose. High carb diets cause both high insulin levels and increased chance of insulin overswing leading to hypoglycemia.

I have known plenty of vegetarians and vegans who were kind to animals but pretty darned militant and confrontational about some other things, so personally, I do not think there is any significant merit to their accusations that paleo or meat eaters are any more militant than other segments of the population. Then again, if a person is sick and light headed and without much energy, that may also contribute to less confrontations. The more you lay down in bed and do nothing, the less trouble you are likely to get into! ;-)

1204 · October 13, 2010 at 11:48 AM

I hope so! (kidding)

I think aggression and violence need to be kept separate. I know that the definition of aggression includes harm to others but right now I can't think of a better word to describe the 'dominant', 'assertive', 'go after what you want' male spirit.

There is no doubt that testosterone increases the 'male spirit / aggressiveness' which is not a bad thing in my opinion (as long as it doesn't hurt others).

Many guys feel more dominant, confident and assertive when they are in good shape and working out (because they have more testosterone in their body). They do better at their jobs, experience less fear, take more risks and are more confident with women.

It might well be correct that eating meat is one of the causes of 'aggression', but as I've said there's nothing wrong with that. Violence on the other hand is rarely justified.

4888 · October 13, 2010 at 08:11 AM

I am sure I read that research had been done suggesting that increasing the Omega 3 intake i prison populations massively decreased aggressive behaviour. In both Denmark and the UK - Wakefield prison springs to mind.

So - no.

832 · October 13, 2010 at 05:28 AM

Yoga instructors or naturally insulated by their hosting civilization. They have falsely associated eating meat with aggression because they see vegetarians as generally eschewing violence. Of course, this is a false correlation. Vegetarians tend to be sensitive to the suffering of others, including animals, so they may drift towards eating fewer animals or no animals. However, there are violent vegetarians like those crazies associated with animal liberation or PETA. Hunter-gatherer and other primitive societies tend to be very kind and gentle and generous peoples and they eat as much meat as they can catch.

10170 · October 13, 2010 at 07:33 AM

NO IT DOESN'T!!!!! F$*% YOU!!!!


I have read quite a lot of anthropological texts about hunter-gatherers in Africa (Bushmen, Pygmees and Hadza) and they all seem very non agressive and peaceful. Now I don't know if these HG's are representative, and I don't know if the texts I've read are 100% true.

Also, I don't think that agression makes a good hunter.

129 · October 13, 2010 at 04:58 AM

Short answer: no. Long answer: probably a small correlation.

Yoga hippies' idiocy aside, I don't think there's any reason eating paleo should cause violent behavior. (This might not apply for those among you who believe in paleo re-enactment, instead of paleo-informed eating.) Food is food.

That said, paleo eating is conducive to better hormone levels, which for men means higher testosterone. Also, people who eat paleo are very likely to work out with heavy weights, which also stimulates testosterone production. While "roid rage" is a very overstated concept from the media, take it from me: when I have higher T levels, I know I'm more direct, aggressive in mindset (though not violent...), higher sex drive, all those things. It does affect you. That would probably lead to a small statistical increase in violence correlated with eating paleo.

But I wouldn't worry about it. Higher testosterone levels don't turn off your brain; you are still more than capable of acting rationally. Just think before you punch. :)

55322 · October 16, 2010 at 04:57 PM

According to one of my last boyfriends, it definitely does not. This was amply demonstrated by the time he snatched a muffin away from me and said "No, I can't have you becoming a monster again."

Yes, I was very guilty of being a monster when I was not paleo. I would get hungry quite easily and then become aggressive to the point that all attempts to fix the situation would be rebuffed by some fixation on a rare or unattainable foodstuff. Paleo has given me the stability to not be the monster picky girlfriend from hell. Blood sugar stability is king!

The bad thing about being paleo is I'm so un-aggressive that I don't really care about climbing the career ladder or being competitive. Oh well.

193 · October 14, 2010 at 12:51 PM

No. I think a whole foods, nutrient dense diet will calm people down. People won't have any hypoglycemic-induced anger. People won't have any depression, social anxiety, and road rage. People will actually be calmer if people got rid of the food additives, MSG, and artificial chemicals which make them rage.

4813 · October 14, 2010 at 01:17 AM

I have a few issues both with the statement (which I consider false) as well as with the line of "defense" coming from here. I remember reading (now who was it?) that NOT eating animals actually causes aggression because of some natural hormonal changes (sorry, I am not that good in this all). I remember even that the author joked that there is no surprise why all these vegetarian/green activists clash often violently with police (anti-globalization) or organize aggressive and violent attacks, in the name of "saving animals".

To be honest, I dont' know enough to have an opinion about the bio-chemical changes in our bodies. I know that I am much more mellow. But it might be also the meds I am taking ;-)

I am not hungry non stop. When I was hungry before going paleo, I could tear apart whatever was on my way. I had very short temper and my kids (I am a teacher) would drive me crazy. Now I can take really a lot of crap from people and stay in line, all zen. OF course that's totally anecdotal. But reading/watching about HG they seemed all pretty low in aggression, and even during hunt there was more focus, attention and thinking involved than some blood thirsty violence.

Another thing. Please, why go all the time with the tired stereotypes that aggression=male? That to be "more male" one must be more aggressive? And that there is no aggression with women or that it's somehow unfeminine? Aggression is a natural drive in our species, no difference the sex. It is used or expressed differently, may be triggered differently, but it's well there. Both sexes have testosterone, and I am pretty sure testosterone is not the only factor in the feelings of acts of aggression. We are talking biology here, not socialization of patriarchal society. Violence among/caused by women is very common, even among young girls. It's enough to take off the social expectations, or change them, and it's all up on the surface.

415 · October 13, 2010 at 03:35 PM

It's proven that eating vegitarian, especailly vegan, decreases testosterone. So in a relative sense, those eating paleo could be considered more agressive. What's really going on is that veg*s are just low on testosterone and are very passive. And really, what's so wrong with an appropriate amount of agressivness? When it comes to survival, you need some. Veg*s see agressivness as a negative. It's not. Just veg*n propaganda.

98 · October 13, 2010 at 05:45 AM

I think the people you gained your information from misconstrued instinct with desire. We all have the instincts needed to eat fresh animal flesh from the bone, but not all of us have the desire to do that. If you were stuck in the wilderness with a bow and arrow, and you had the skills to use it, you would kill an animal, cook it in a fire, and eat it. It's not aggression that makes you want to do that, it's survival.

22684 · October 19, 2010 at 11:17 AM

Sugar promotes a poor temper and aggressiveness with me, back during my food journal periods this was very clear.

Testosterone however makes me feel large and in charge, and not really violent.

cheating with sugar will cause road rage in a heartbeat for me. Also causes paranoid feelings

641 · October 16, 2010 at 04:52 PM

I hang out a bit in yoga circles, too. There's a lot of "need to rid the whole world of violence" sentiment there. I don't have a problem with that, but if I join in a conversation, I try to point out the distinction between violence and animosity.

Carnivorous animals must employ violence in order to hunt and survive, but they do so with no animosity -- they don't hate the animal they're trying to kill. I think it would by much more useful to strive to "rid the whole world" of animosity, rather than violence. (Yes, I know this sentiment is just as futile as trying to rid the world of violence, but we can all dream, right?).

Judging from the conversations I've had, it seems to me that there are many people out there who would rather not give up the ability to feel animosity towards others. Sorry to say, but that makes them hypocrites in my mind.

65 · October 13, 2010 at 07:20 PM

Adolf Hitler was a vegetarian perhaps best known for his lack of compassion.

77322 · October 13, 2010 at 09:08 AM

when i lean out on a strict paleo (lamentably with consequent lapses into gluttonous debauchery) i do feel a great increase in self-confidence and a desire to be more self-assertive (testosterone?), domineering or even contemptuous towards other people (which may not be a particularly commendable trait per se) - and in those times i may very well (potentially) act more aggressively in situations where i otherwise would usually have yielded

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