How Does Being a Vegetarian Affect the Brain?
The health food craze is in full swing these days. Most everyone has their own idea of what is healthiest and what is not. The medical professionals are the best source for these discussions; however, a lot of folks jump on the vegetarian bandwagon first when considering a healthy diet. A vegetarian is one that chooses, whether due to health or personal reasons, to no longer include or limit meat in their diet. Those that choose to not consume any animal product would be a vegan. This includes among other products the omission of eggs, cheese and milk. There are multiple types of vegetarians in between.
Types of Vegetarians
When an individual decides to become vegetarian, it is not as simple as no longer eating meat. There is much to take into consideration, such as exactly what the individual is willing to remove from their diet. Their choice of diet plan will ultimately put them in one of six categories. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian will eat plant-based foods, dairy products and eggs, omitting meat, poultry and fish. A lacto-vegetarian omits meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Ovo-vegetarians eat eggs, but omit meat, poultry, fish and dairy products. The pesco-vegetarian includes fish with their vegetables, and the semi-vegetarian (also known as the partial vegetarian) may find dairy products, eggs, fish and chicken on their plate, but will omit meat. As previously mentioned, the vegan will only eat plant-based foods and strictly omit all animal-based foods (berkeleywellness.com).
Affects on the Brain
Although being cautious and purposeful with a diet plan can and most likely will result in very healthy changes in the body, one also needs to take into consideration how omitting meats from the diet will affect the brain. Though over the years, vegetarianism was thought to be risky in that a person would not get the full nutrition their body needed by consuming only plant-based foods, recent studies have shown that this may not necessarily be the case. Many that omit meat from their diet are consuming less saturated fats and cholesterol, but also less creatine. Most vegetarians have lower creatine levels than omnivores.
Creatine is an amino acid that the general public hears about mostly in relation to sports and athletes. Though it does play a significant part in enhancing athletic performance, it is also considered a possible nootropic, which enhances cognition. Creatine is, however, a non-essential amino acid. What that means is that the body does have the ability to create it from other amino acids. When it comes to diets, creatine can be primarily found in meats, poultry and fish. Since vegetarians typically will omit these from their diets, depending on which type of vegetarian one has or will become, other sources of creatine should be considered, such as supplements.
Creatine supplements may be considered if there is a history of Parkinson’s, Dementia or any other Neurological diseases in the family. If this is a factor, be sure to bring this up in conversations with a medical professional when discussing diet changes. It may be found that with added or continued exercise, it is not necessary to take a supplement.
Though creatine is definitely an important factor since it supports the brain and cognition, overall becoming a vegetarian of any type does not necessarily mean the brain will be negatively affected. It is believed that those that take on the vegetarian lifestyle have a lower risk of dementia. Typically, a vegetarian will also include exercise in their daily routine and are less likely to smoke (scientificamerican.com). This may also factor into the lowered risk.
When considering the benefits of becoming a vegetarian, which include possibly lowering the risk of heart disease, some Cancers such as colon, breast and lung Cancers, and type 2 Diabetes, the negative impact on the brain by reducing the amount of creatine is very low. Include protein for muscle growth, Vitamin B12 for neurological health including depression and fatigue, Omega-3 fatty acids (primarily DHA) which are associated with non-verbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory and vocabulary.
DHA Omega-3 is typically found in seafood. This makes it a little difficult for the vegetarians that omit fish and seafood from their diet. There are some plant-based foods that contain Omega-3s, but it is a different type, ALA. The brain can convert ALA Omega 3s to DHA Omega 3s, but it is not done efficiently. This means counting on plant-based foods for DHA Omega 3s is not recommended. There are supplements out there that include algae with DHA (wellandgood.com).
Do the Research
A new diet-plan should never be taken lightly. All the ins and outs need to be considered. Talk with family members to be sure all the health history is known and bring the collected information to a medical professional. The type of vegetarian a person becomes will play a factor in what type of supplements may be needed. The brain is a very valuable part of the body and needs to be taken care of.
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