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Plant-based Diets Can Lead To Serious Brain Health

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The current trend of individuals moving towards vegan or vegetarian based diets inorder to save the planet etc is a commendable initiative but doctors and healthcare professional are getting worried. The reason being is that in countries like Britain, US, Australia and India, medical researchers are discovering a connection that as more people switch to such diets, the is a corresponding increase of brain health issues indicating a strong correlation.

Researchers from Nutritional Insight, a consultancy specializing nutrition and biomedical sciences in UK discovered that the root cause of the problem was the lack of Choline in the plant-based diets. A plant based diet risks worsening an already low intake of an essential nutrient such as Choline involved in brain health. The research lead by Dr. Emma Derbyshire was published in the British Medical Journal Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

Choline is an essential dietary nutrient. Choline is required to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in regulating memory, mood and intelligence. It is also needed for the process that  synthesizes DNA, which is important for brain function and development

Choline is critical to brain health, particularly during fetal development. It also influences liver function, with shortfalls linked to irregularities in blood fat metabolism as well as excess free radical cellular damage.

The primary sources of dietary choline are found in beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken.

The lack of proper government monitoring and regulatory issues to set recommended dietary levels have made the matter worst in many countries.

The US Institute of Medicine in 1998, recognising the importance of choline, recommended minimum daily intakes. These range from 425 mg/day for females to 550 mg/day for males, and 450 mg/day and 550 mg/day for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively, because of the critical role the nutrient has in fetal development. In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published similar daily requirements. Yet national dietary surveys in North America, Australia, and Europe show that habitual choline intake, on average, falls short of these recommendations. This is concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets.

Though the medical researchers commends the first report (EAT-Lancet) to compile a healthy food plan based on promoting  environmental sustainability,but suggests that the restricted intakes of whole milk, eggs and animal protein it recommends could affect choline intake.The researchers were at a loss to understand why choline does not feature in UK or even in other countries’s dietary guidance or national population monitoring data.

“Given the important physiological roles of choline and authorisation of certain health claims, it is questionable why choline has been overlooked for so long in the UK and many other countries. Choline is presently excluded from UK,US, Australia, India food composition databases, major dietary surveys, and dietary guidelines.”commented Dr Emma in an interview with Thailand Medical News.

More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet, and how to achieve this. 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.

Individuals on vegan or vegetarian diets and those planning to do so should carefully monitor their health levels and also find ways to supplement themselves with Choline. The dangers associated with lack of Choline is numerous and is not only linked to brain health issues but also to many neurodegenerative issues and also birth issues.

Reference:: Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? British Medical Journal, Nutrition  DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037

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