Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Stupid media spin bollocks



All over the web today there are articles shrieking: 'VEGANS 6 TIMES MORE LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE BRAIN SHRINKAGE!'

According to these stories, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet means your brain is going to shrink. All these articles mention Heather Mills McCartney and Pamela Anderson as examples. They cite 'scientists of Oxford University' as their sources, and usually further down the story there's a reference to B12 and the fact that Marmite is 'the only vegetarian' source of B12. It is usually only implied that B12 is the problem associated with loss of brain volume, and no mention is made of how easy it is for vegetarians and vegans to get adequate amounts of B12, nor what constitutes an adequate amount of B12.

Here are some examples of the media spin:

Brain Shrink Risk of Veggie Diet

'Vegans and vegetarians — such as Heather Mills, Russell Brand and Big Brother's Chanelle Houghton — are the most likely to be deficient because the best sources of the vitamin are meat, particularly liver, milk and fish.'

Going Veggie Shrinks the Brain

'Yeast extracts are one of the few vegetarian foods which provide good levels of the vitamin.'

Meat-free Diet Linked to Brain Shrinkage



Well, this infuriated me, so I had a look for the original study in order to find the truth. This is what the study actually says:

A study conducted by researchers at the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) found that people with higher levels of vitamin B12 were six times less likely to experience brain volume loss.

This study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory, says Anna Vogiatzoglou of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University. Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem. Without carrying out a clinical trial, we acknowledge that it is still not known whether B12 supplementation would actually make a difference in elderly persons at risk for brain shrinkage.

For the study, 107 people between the ages of 61 and 87 underwent brain scans, memory testing and physical exams. The researchers from the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Ageing (OPTIMA) also collected blood samples to check vitamin B12 levels. Brain scans and memory tests were also performed again five years later.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, found that people who had higher vitamin B12 levels were six times less likely to experience brain shrinkage compared with those who had lower levels of the vitamin in their blood. None of the people in the study had vitamin B12 deficiency.

Many factors that affect brain health are thought to be out of our control, but this study suggests that simply adjusting our diets to consume more vitamin B12 through eating meat, fish, fortified cereals or milk may be something we can easily adjust to prevent brain shrinkage and so perhaps save our memory,” says Anna Vogiatzoglou of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at Oxford University. “Research shows that vitamin B12 deficiency is a public health problem, especially among the elderly, so more vitamin B12 intake could help reverse this problem. Without carrying out a clinical trial, we acknowledge that it is still not known whether B12 supplementation would actually make a difference in elderly persons at risk for brain shrinkage.”

Previous research on the vitamin has had mixed results and few studies have been done specifically with brain scans in elderly populations. We tested for vitamin B12 levels in a unique, more accurate way by looking at two certain markers for it in the blood,” adds Ms Vogiatzoglou.

Ms Vogiatzoglou says the study did not look at whether taking vitamin B12 supplements would have the same effect on memory.

The study was supported by the UK Alzheimer’s Research Trust, the Medical Research Council, the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, the Norwegian Foundation for Health and Rehabilitation through the Norwegian Health Association, Axis-Shield plc and the Johan Throne Holst Foundation for Nutrition Research.

For more information please contact Professor David Smith on david.smith@pharm.ox.ac.uk

Or the Press Office, University of Oxford, 01865 280528, press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk.

Source: Vitamin B12 May Protect Against Brain Shrinkage in Baby Boomers


So the study had nothing to do with vegetarianism, veganism or the implications of a meat-free diet. The study was to see whether a higher level amongst those with adequate levels of B12 had any impact on loss of brain volume in the elderly. That is it and that is all.

I am so sick of the media taking any opportunity to bray the supposed health benefits of meat and dairy consumption. They will take absolutely anything and turn it on its head to make it mean you better eat your steak smothered in blue cheese sauce and follow that up with some cheesecake and whipped cream.

Or else your brain will shrink.

That being said, there is some truth every strict vegetarian must face.

The truth about B12 is that it can only be found in meat, dairy and eggs. It comes from bacteria, and the unattractive truth of the matter is that it is consumed by animals through contact with dirt. To be perfectly truthful, fecal material. This is how it gets into meat and dairy and passed on to other animals who consume that meat. Herbivorous animals such as ruminants (cows, buffalo, goats--cud-chewers) have a digestive system which allows the fermentation of bacteria. Primates have a tendency to eat small amounts of insects, dirt and yes, feces. Even gorillas, the closest 'vegan' relation to humans, occasionally eat insects and feces. Many wild herbivores get dirt in their diets when they eat plants. But B12 is not passed on through plants, only through dirt, feces or meat or dairy.

I'm not prepared to eat big hunks of meat, drink milk, and I'm not particularly excited at the prospects of eating dirt or poo poo! So that's why I take my B12 supplements and buy products fortified with B12. It's also why I'm not terribly strict about avoiding any and all items that contain traces of egg white, tiny amounts of cheese, or dairy. (Such as breads or nut cutlets or something that might contain those). I figure those traces are the equivalent of a gorilla's occasional bug, and with our B12 supplementation, should be more than sufficient. A person only needs 100 micrograms of B12 a day. That's not much!

2 comments:

Tess said...

Ahh, the most annoying debate a vegan can face.

Just to be random :P human sperm contains B12. If you're into that sort of thing, lol.

Carla said...

Ewww.