The Vegan View

The Vegan View

In the news: a study from Oxford University states that Vegan diets cause brain to shrink? Your opinions, and what do you think is a "proper" vegan diet? Do you take vitamin supplements?

Editor's Note: This reader is seemingly referring to this news report:,2933,422767,00.html. The study is in the American Academy of Neurology journal, Neurology: "Vitamin B12 status and rate of brain volume loss in community-dwelling elderly".

The Vegan View Answers

VegFamily readers reply:

This was sent to us by Andrew to share with our readers. It is his response to the article about the study highlighted.

Hello, my name is Andrew Hickman and I am a graduate student at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. I am also a vegetarian, as such, I feel as if I constantly need to pay attention to mass media in order to debunk the utter myths about vegetarianism that is proliferated. I am writing in regards to your story titled Vegetable-Only Diet Ups Risk for Brain Shrinkage. As a Creighton University student, part of my tuition pays for me to access nearly every medical journal on the planet, Neurology is no exception. I took the time to read the entire article, I was puzzled by the fact that the words "vegetarian", "vegetable", "meat", and "vegan" did not appear a single time in the entire article. Honestly, you're not the only news outlet to eschew the results of this study, several news sites that I've checked have fallen into this trap of sloppy journalism. From my reading here are the basic facts demonstrated by this study:

-Low levels of B12 can adversely affect brain size in old age.
-Dietary intake of high amounts of B12 can belay this problem.
-B12 supplements were not studied to see if they had an effect on brain shrinkage.

That's all the study says. Nothing more, nothing less. I know you that you have a quote from Anna Vogiatzoglou, in which she states that meat is high in B12 and therefore could curb brain shrinkage. A statement, which, I don't disagree with. But, the claim that a vegetable only diet is risky is an inference made on YOUR end, not her's and not the study's. QUED, your desire to lambaste vegetarians is obvious by your headline, since you ignore the information in Anna Vogiatzoglou statement that fortified cereals are a viable source of B12, according to the Federal Office of Dietary Supplements website fortified cereal is the third highest source of B12 offering 100% of the daily recommended intake in only 3/4 cup, two foods of higher value are mollusks and liver, which I'm sure most Americans eat everyday, right? The Office of Dietary Supplements does recommend that vegetarians take a B12 supplement to offset a lack of B12 from meat eating and this is good, sound advice of which this study fails to refute. So long as people who eat vegetable-only diets take a B12 substitute, they are at no greater risk than the general meat eating population. However, I want to ask you, what dietary supplement can meat eaters take to offset the high cholesterol, saturated fat, indigestion, and myriad other health problems related to eating meat? The answer is none, eating meat is generally unhealthy. That's not to say plant based diets are free from worry, but it's much easier to offset any dietary deficiency with a simple pill.

Best regards,
Andrew Hickman

While the study seems well done from the abstract, the news report about it makes assumptions that are not born out in the study. Low B-12 status is linked with cognitive decline. Nowhere in the study did they compare B-12 taken by supplement with B-12 ingested from food so the conclusion that vegan diets will cause brain shrinkage is a total fallacy in logic. Of course it is important for vegans to ensure a reliable source of B-12 through supplements or fortified foods. You might even consider getting bloodwork if you are concerned and want to know where you stand. Many dietitians recommend supplements for all people over 50 as one's ability to absorb B-12 declines with age.

Isn't it just a matter of B12? There are vegan sources of that. I mean it's not an animal product per se.

This sounds like another sensationalized article. The study says that low B-12 levels can be associated with brain shrinkage, not vegan diets. Yes, you can wind up with a B-12 deficiency on a vegan diet if you don't supplement. You can also wind up with a B-12 deficiency eating the standard American diet. I'd rather remain vegan and supplement B-12 than wind up with a stroke or plaque build-up in the blood vessels of my brain -- both of which I imagine would cause some brain damage as well. As a twenty year vegan who is a member of Mensa and who has two kids who've been vegetarian their entire lives and are at least as bright as am I, I'm not all that worried about our brains having been damaged by our diets ;-)!

PDX Vegan Family:
As a vegan, you can only STRIVE to be fully vegan, and as a vegan you understand this. This world has advanced to the point where we do not need to kill animals to gain proper nutrition. We now know we have MANY other wonderful options available to select from without having to take a life. I am at the point in my veganism view that I would rather let my own life end then to know an animal died to try to save mine. I do not value a human life more than an animal life because the bottom line is that they are LIVES. We as vegans live our lives in hopes to make the smallest negative impact on this world, and hopefully try to not make things worse. If all goes well, we hopefully leave it better than we found it. As far as vaccinations, I do not believe they are currently safe for children, and chose not to vaccinate my daughter when she was a baby (before I was even vegan).

This is absurd. Vegans don't have any more of a chance of "shrinking brains" than anybody else.

My idea of a well-balanced vegan diet is a wide variety of organic fruit and vegetables (preferably out of your own garden, unwashed to retain the natural B-12 layer), whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, with a moderate amount of processed proteins such as tofu, tempeh, and gluten (the latter being of least importance).

I supplement if I feel I'm not getting enough of a certain nutrient(s).

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