So I just responded to an urgent, confused email from a friend wondering about today's news as reported in The Times of India. Apparently, it's also been airing on FOX and the Today Show.
Here's how it starts out:
Eating veggies shrinks the brain
14 Sep 2008
MELBOURNE: "Scientists have discovered that going veggie could be bad for your brain-with those on a meat-free diet six times more likely to suffer brain shrinkage.
Vegans and vegetarians are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause anaemia and inflammation of the nervous system. Yeast extracts are one of the few vegetarian foods which provide good levels of the vitamin.
The link was discovered by Oxford University scientists who used memory tests, physical checks and brain scans to examine 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87.
When the volunteers were retested five years later the medics found those with the lowest levels of vitamin B12 were also the most likely to have brain shrinkage. It confirms earlier research showing a link between brain atrophy and low levels of B12."
I'd like to point out that as far as I can tell this study, published in the journal Neurology, was not done on vegetarians, but rather, "normal" elderly people. I'm not sure then, why the article connects going "veggie" to B12 deficiency: B12 deficiency in the elderly is nothing new, and it is usually caused by the lack of an enzyme necessary to digest B12 from food, called the Intrinsic Factor. Many peoples' digestive system stops producing the Intrinsic Factor as they age, and even if they were to consume loads of the vitamin B12 in their food, it would not be absorbed. Clearly, eating more meat would not benefit these people.
Also, B12 deficiency from diet is rare: the liver can store B12 for up to 3 years, and some B12 is produced by healthy intestinal flora. Even so, most vegans or strict vegetarians are aware that B12 is the one and only nutrient that is not begotten by plant foods, and so take a supplement or consume foods like soy milk or cereal fortified with B12. Most soy milks are fortified, as are most cereals in the U.S.
I think what's ironic is that B12 is produced by bacteria found in healthy soil, which is then (theoretically) consumed by livestock, thus delivering B12 in milk and meat. However, assuming that most livestock today are consuming grass grown in healthy soil is an iffy assumption at best. Instead, many livestock are fed grain and other feeds that may not harbor any B12 from soil. So to say vegetarians are more at risk than non-vegetarians is quite SENSATIONAL at the least, and ridiculous at best.
Just funny that, since the author of the article didn't exactly say this. She actually said something closer to what I've already written.
To quote the author:
"Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory,’ says Anna Vogiatzoglou of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University.
…this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory.
Anna Vogiatzoglou, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University ‘Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem."
(Italic emphasis mine)
Also, interesingly enough, there are many more people at risk of brain shrinkage from B12 deficiency according to The Times in India article:
"Brain scans of more than 1,800 people found that people who downed 14 drinks or more a week had 1.6% more brain shrinkage than teetotallers. Women in their seventies were the most at risk.
Beer does less damage than wine according to a study in Alcohol and Alcoholism.
Researchers found that the hippocampus-the part of the brain that stores memories - was 10% smaller in beer drinkers than those who stuck to wine.
And being overweight or obese is linked to brain loss, Swedish researchers discovered. Scans of around 300 women found that those with brain shrink had an average body mass index of 27 And for every one point increase in their BMI the loss rose by 13 to 16%."
So even moderate drinkers of non-hard alcoholic drinks, and... obese people are at risk of brain loss. Maybe the article could have mentioned that vegetarians and vegans are the least likely population to have a high BMI? Oh, that wouldn't be nearly as attention-grabbing as a title like "Eating Veggies Shrinks the Brain". But then, truth just isn't sexy.
Labels: B12 deficiency