Can a vegan diet affect your intelligence?

There are rumors that a vegan diet can affect a person's intelligence, while others argue this hypothesis.

The accusations that the vegan diet affects intelligence is somewhat intuitive, because our ancestors were hunters and ate meat, later assuming that eating meat makes us smarter. The brain, although it accounts for only 2% of body weight, devours about 20% of our daily calories and what better way to find the huge range of fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals could exist than eating meat, say those who associate veganism with an impairment of intelligence.

Diets without animal products, adopted for centuries in some parts of the world

Although it is hard to imagine that our ancestors had too much to choose from in terms of food, now things are completely different. In India, meatless diets have been adopted by large masses of the population for centuries. According to the latest statistics, there are now about 375 million vegetarians on the planet, and in the West, veganism has become one of the fastest growing trends; in the US, for example, veganism increased by 600% between 2014 and 2017.

On the one hand, recent concern about nutritional deficiencies in herbal diets has led to a number of alarming headlines, including a warning that they can impede brain development and cause irreversible damage to a person's nervous system. In 2016, the German Society for Nutrition went so far as to state categorically that - for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and adolescents - vegan diets are not recommended.

On the other hand, if abstaining from meat had any real impact on our brains, this would have already been observed, given that many populations do not eat meat. Ideally, to test the impact of the vegan diet on the brain, a random group of people should be taken, which should be split in two - one side to consume animal products for a while and the other part not - and then to make the analyzes and draw conclusions. But there is no such study.

Some nutrients useful to the brain do not exist in the vegan diet, but they can be supplemented

The truth is that there are several important nutrients associated with brain health that are simply not found in vegetables. Creatine, carnosine, taurine, Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, iron and vitamins B12 and D3 generally occur naturally only in foods derived from products of animal origin, although they can be synthesized in the laboratory or extracted from non-animal sources , such as seaweed, and added to supplements.

One of the best known challenges for vegans is to get enough vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products such as eggs and meat. Other species get it from bacteria that live in their digestive tract, but humans do not have this advantage.

Some children have suffered, according to the researchers' reports, because their parents were poorly informed about proper vegan diets and forced them to eat like that. Later in life, the amount of B12 in a person's blood is directly correlated with a person's IQ, scientists say. In the elderly, a study found that the brains of those with a B12 deficiency were six times more likely to shrink.

A British study found that half of the vegans in the sample were deficient in B12. In some parts of India, the problem is endemic - possibly a consequence of the popularity of meatless diets.

Another nutrient that is rare in the typical vegan diet is iron. Although we often associate it with blood, iron also plays an important role in brain development and is essential for maintaining a healthy organ throughout life. For example, a 2007 study found that taking iron supplements to young women led to significant intellectual gains. In people whose blood iron levels rose during the study, performance on a cognitive test improved five to seven times.

It is believed that up to two billion people worldwide are iron-deficient. Vegans are particularly prone to this deficiency, because the form that is most easily absorbed by the body is "heme iron", which is found only in animal proteins. A German study found that 40% of vegans surveyed consumed less than the recommended daily allowance.

Other common deficiencies among vegans include vitamin D3, Omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, folate and iodine. Although the body can produce D3 when the skin is exposed to the sun, this is difficult to achieve in the seasons without much sun.

But all these missing elements from the vegan diet can be taken without problems from food supplements. It is also important for everyone, regardless of the diet adopted, to do the usual blood tests once a year to detect any deficiencies.

vegan diet

A carefully documented vegan diet does not endanger health

Most researchers agree that extensive research is needed to learn more about the benefits of veganism and the risks of this style of eating, as well as the effects it has on the brain.

However, they also say, if a person who becomes vegan is thoroughly informed, reads about the importance of the 40 essential nutrients for the body, takes care to make a varied diet, which will bring him the nutrients he needs and take the necessary supplements. of a well-functioning brain, such as vitamin B12, he does his tests once a year and seeks the advice of a doctor or an accredited nutritionist regarding a proper diet plan, if he feels that he fails alone, it is very possible that to maintain their long-term physical and mental health and not to endanger their IQ.

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