Vegan? Avoid brain fog

Are you vegan because you love animals, or is it a way to lose weight? Do you feel deep deep down that vegan-eating will prevent weight gain? Do you feel dirty if you eat fish, meat or eggs? Have you ideas of saving the planet? If you do, learn how plant based diets contribute to affecting the biosphere. Its more complicated than you think.

Victoria Lambert writes in the Telegraph. “When I first went back to eating fish after a year of strict veganism, I noticed the effect quite fast. I felt more alert and aware as though someone had woken me up.

My experience replicated that of actor Anne Hathaway who said she felt like her brain had “rebooted” when she returned to eating fish after some years on a plant based diet.

Now a new report in the journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health suggests that our instinctive dietary changes may be grounded in fact. Dr Emma Derbyshire has warned that vegans may be storing up health problems for themselves and even future generations.

Dr Derbyshire is concerned that vegans cannot access the amino acid choline which is essential for the health and development of our brains.

“Plant-based diets are great and brilliant for the environment,” she says. “But in terms of reducing intake of choline – which is vital for foetal brain development – no-one had given it much thought.”

Choline is not the only nutrient a vegan diet can lack, says consultant dietitian Sophie Medlin, a lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London.

“Anyone following a plant-based diet,” says Medlin, “is likely to have sub-optimal levels of Vitamin B12 and an essential fatty acid called DHA. These are vital for the health of our neurons or brain cells.”

Deficiency symptoms include brain fog, short-term memory loss, changes in mood, difficulty sleeping, agitation and anxiety.

Choline, DHA and B12 have one other thing in common: they cannot be made in the body and only accessed in meat, fish, algae or dairy directly.

Vegan supplements do exist: DHA can be found in an algae supplement and B12 via an oral spray. Choline is more complicated as it is only available as a powder to be added to food but supplies are unregulated and, says Medlin, its’ impossible to know how much you need to take.

For those of us who have taken veganism on as a dietary change hoping to feel better, Medlin suggests introducing a little meat or daily, via a glass of milk or a portion of oily fish.

However for those doing it for ethical reasons she says: “I’d like to see The Vegan Society getting more involved. They need to warn of the risks and signs of deficiency and how that can be overcome in a properly vegan way.

“Giving up being vegan is difficult if you are committed to animal welfare. So vegans need to be shown all the options to support them. But if they want to avoid brain fog, they need to know the risks that they are running of serious nutritional deficiency.”