Health, Nutrition, Fitness and Conservative Medical Care by Howard and Michael Veit
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Does Being a Vegetarian Shrink Your Brain?
This article appeared a year or so ago on Newsmax.com:
Being Vegetarian Shrinks Brain
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 9:15 AM
By: Sylvia Booth Hubbard
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Becoming a vegetarian could be good for the planet, but it’s bad for your brain. Scientists at Oxford University in England have found that vegetarians are six times more likely to have brain shrinkage than those who include meats in their diets.
The cause could be a lack of vitamins. Vegetarians are more likely than meat-eaters to be deficient in vitamin B12, which is mainly found in meats, and a B12 deficiency is known to cause anemia and inflammation of the nervous system.
Oxford researchers examined 107 people between the age of 61 and 87 using physical exams, memory tests and brain scans. When the same volunteers were retested five years later, those with the lowest amounts of B12 had the most brain atrophy.
Swedish researchers found that being overweight is also linked to brain loss. Women with a BMI (body mass index) that averaged 27 showed brain shrinkage. (A BMI of 25 or over is “overweight” and a BMI of 30 or higher is “obese.”) For every additional point in BMI, brain loss increased by 13 to 16 percent.
My comment is:
The theme of this article is that scientists suspect that vegetarians are at risk for brain shrinkage.
Whether that is true or not, it is true that being vegetarian or vegan is not necessarily healthy. Avoiding meat and dairy is a good idea, but doing so does not guarantee health. Vitamin B12 and D deficiencies are potential issues with vegetarians/vegans. The article cited above says B12 deficiency may be a factor in neurological damage. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to other problems.
While this is controversial, it is a good idea for people who avoid meat to take B12 supplement. If you don't go out in the sun a lot, Vitamin D supplementation is also wise. Most other vitamins and minerals are found in more abundance (per 100 calories) in plant foods than in animal foods.
A healthy vegan diet is high in nutrition and low in calories. Vegans who eat lots of processed foods, high in sugar, salt and fat have an unhealthy diet. Being a "french fry" vegetarian is not a good idea.
So I don't even like to use the term 'vegan' or 'vegetarian.' An excellent diet is one that is very high in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants. Such a diet is primarily plant based and centered around whole foods -- vegetables, fruit, beans/legumes, whole grains, nuts/seeds. Processed foods, oils(yes, olive oil too), meat and dairy are to be avoided or severely restricted. Many vegans do not eat a diet remotely similar to this. In fact, I don't like to go to vegan/vegetarian restaurants because although there is no meat, the food is typically high in vegetable oils, salt and sugar. Vegetarian restaurants also often have their meals centered around 'fake meats', like veggie dogs, hamburgs, etc., which are high in processed soy and oils...they are better than real hot dogs and hamburgs, but not much.
I doubt whether a whole foods plant based diet will shrink your brain.