Anger is a universal experience, although both the feeling of anger and its behavioral manifestations can vary widely, from a toddler’s screaming meltdown to teenage vandalism, from PMS to road rage, from sudden white-hot fury to simmering resentment or irritability.
Anger is usually considered to be an emotional and/or psychological tendency combined with some sort of external trigger such as a personal disagreement or upsetting event. However, much if not most anger, aggression, and irritability have physical causes. Identifying and addressing those causes can help keep anger from erupting, simmering, or escalating out of control.
Hormones have a huge influence on anger. An example is the anger and contempt that are part of the teenage experience for so many adolescents as hormone levels surge and fluctuate. Another is the grumpiness and irritability that often accompany PMS (premenstrual syndrome); since these emotions rise and fall according to the time of the month, no purely psychological explanation would suffice to explain this since one’s psychology doesn’t fluctuate on a weekly basis. Yet another example is “ ‘roid rage”, blasts of fury that can accompany the taking of high doses of steroid drugs, which are powerful hormones. Hormonal imbalance can be tested for and remedied.
Lowered cholesterol levels have been linked to higher levels of aggressiveness. Cholesterol levels directly influence the levels of serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter, in the brain. Lowering cholesterol levels by diet or statin drugs could lead to lower serotonin levels, increasing the risk of violent behavior. One study found that average US mortality from motor vehicle accidents, murders, and suicides among middle-aged white males was 62 per 100,000 in general, and 107 per 100,000 among people trying to cut their cholesterol level. Fat and cholesterol are both used to make hormones, so low-fat diets might also unbalance hormones.
Irrational, aggressive and violent behavior is shown in alcohol users, even in placebo-controlled trials done to rule out effects of expectation. It is unclear whether alcohol fuels anger in itself, or whether it disinhibits anger-related behavior, or both.
As mentioned above, steroid drugs, especially when taken in excess to attempt to build muscle and strength, can lead to rage and out-of-control anger. Other medications that can affect hormone balance can have similar effects.
When one is exposed to toxins of whatever sort, the nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode as it perceives a danger and prepares to avoid or battle the danger. The resulting adrenal stress can lead to being chronically primed to fight, i.e. anger.
Mercury poisoning, common in those with metal fillings, can cause many symptoms, including fits of anger, violence, irrational thoughts and behavior, and mood swings. Teenagers are known for their wild and poorly-controlled emotional swings; this is the age where hormones kick in, but there might well be more to it than that. Mercury has a well-documented effect on mood, and the presence of other metals in the mouth increase the release of mercury due to the galvanic effect. Parents would be well advised to watch for personality changes and falling academic grades in the days following the placement of braces, especially if amalgam fillings are already present.
Lead poisoning affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which governs impulse behavior; lead can cause one to react violently if one is disturbed. In fact, lead poisoning in childhood is one of the most important predictors of adult criminal behavior, much of which is fueled by anger.
Violent or aggressive reactions can be an indicator of cerebral allergy, an allergic reaction to food that affects the brain. The most common cerebral allergens are corn, wheat, rice, milk, chocolate, and some food additives. Cerebral allergic reactions are often accompanied by headache, as such reactions can cause brain swelling.
Mood swings and bursts of anger or tears can be attributable to allergy. For example, an allergic person exposed to cologne from a passerby may feel disproportionately furious and violated, or suddenly want to burst into tears.
Anger, uncontrollable temper, irritability, and violence can be caused by hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. The adrenals pour out adrenaline in an effort to raise the blood sugar, and this adrenaline can be felt as overpowering anger. Avoiding or minimizing refined sugars and carbohydrates as well as taking in protein every two hours can mitigate this effect, and has the double benefit of also controlling yeast, another cause of mood swings and anger. Hypoglycemia can lead to PMS in men especially – in this case PMS stands for Pre-Meal Syndrome.
A number of studies have been done in juvenile detention homes, schools, and jails, and a strong correlation has been found between sugar intake and violent behavior. Any teacher of young children has observed children’s behavior the day after candy-heavy Halloween or Easter: more tantrums, tears, screaming, and fights than usual.
Apart from the harmful effects of sugar, poor nutrition in general has been correlated with anger and juvenile delinquency. Anger, depression, tension, fatigue, and confusion have all been linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Dietary modification and even simple administration of multi-vitamin and mineral tablets at RDA levels made a huge difference in antisocial and violent behavior in a number of studies.
The DHA in fish oil keeps levels of the mood-elevating neurotransmitter serotonin up. People with low levels of DHA tend to be depressed and even violent. In one study, students who were given DHA fish oil or placebo were given psychological tests during final exam week, a time of severe psychological stress. They were tested for levels of social aggression, and the fish oil group showed significantly less stress-related aggression than the placebo group.
Low potassium can cause a low but more or less constant level of irritability, where minor everyday life hassles are disproportionately annoying. This can be a precursor to violent acting out in some people. Calcium and magnesium are calming minerals, and so their deficiency can also lead to irritability or a short fuse.
How to get help
There are anger management classes of various types, although these will have little or no positive effect if the cause of the anger and associated behavior is primarily physical. If you find that you’re crabby a good bit of the time, or if your anger goes out of control with potentially dangerous consequences, it would be worthwhile to see CAM practitioners to find out whether there is some sort of toxicity, nutritional deficiency, or imbalance that could be contributing to the problem.