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Warning over vegan diets and brain health nutrient deficiency

The concern has been raised by Dr Emma Derbyshire, of Nutritional Insight, a consultancy specializing in nutrition and biomedical science, who has written a paper published in the British Medical Journal. Her research focuses on the British population.

Dr. Derbyshire is concerned about choline levels. Choline is a water-soluble vitamin-like essential nutrient, important for brain health, particularly during fetal development. The nutrient also influences liver function, and shortfalls can be connected to irregularities in blood fat metabolism plus excess free radical cellular damage, according to Dr Derbyshire. She sets out that a diet that includes beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken provides sufficient choline levels, although choline is also found in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli.

Dr. Derbyshire states: “”If choline is not obtained in the levels needed from dietary sources per se then supplementation strategies will be required, especially in relation to key stages of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, when choline intakes are critical to infant development.”

The comments have been challenged by Professor Tom Sanders (King’s College London), who contends that it is possible to get enough choline plant-based foods. He writes: “There is no justification for suggesting that plant based diet risk damaging brain development. My own research on vegans and those of others in Europe and USA find the growth and development of vegans and vegetarians is normal.”

In terms of the main issue that vegans need to be aware of, he turns to vitamin B12: “The main hazard of a vegan diet with regard to neurological development is vitamin B12 deficiency which can readily be avoided by consuming food fortified with the vitamin derived from microbial sources.

Bahee Van de Bor, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, tells the BBC that a vegan diet can deliver what is needed in terms of nutrients but more thought needs to go into what is consumed and how often: “You absolutely can meet the requirements with a vegan or plant-based diet. But you have to have a plan. Foods can be vegan but not provide the necessary nutrients.”

The Vegan Society notes that Dr Emma Derbyshire is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel.

The assessment of veganism and choline levels in the diet has been addressed in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. The paper is titled “Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom?”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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