Suggested Move to Plant-based Diets Risks Worsening Brain Health Nutrient Deficiency

The momentum behind a move to plant-based and vegan diets for the good of the planet is commendable, but risks worsening an already low intake of an essential nutrient involved in brain health, warns a nutritionist in the online journal BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health.

To make matters worse, the UK government has failed to recommend or monitor dietary levels of this nutrient–choline–found predominantly in animal foods, says Dr Emma Derbyshire, of Nutritional Insight, a consultancy specialising in nutrition and biomedical science.

Choline is an essential dietary nutrient, but the amount produced by the liver is not enough to meet the requirements of the human body.

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, writes Dr Derbyshire.

The primary sources of dietary choline are found in beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken, with much lower levels found in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli.

In 1998, recognising the importance of choline, the US Institute of Medicine recommended minimum daily intakes. These range from 425 mg/day for women to 550 mg/day for men, 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,” says Dr Derbyshire.

She 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.

And she is at a loss to understand why choline does not feature in UK 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,” she writes. “Choline is presently excluded from UK food composition databases, major dietary surveys, and dietary guidelines,” she adds.

It may be time for the UK government’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to reverse this, she suggests, particularly given the mounting evidence on the importance of choline to human health and growing concerns about the sustainability of the planet’s food production.

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

“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,” she concludes.

Source: BMJ

Dietary Choline in Eggs and Meats Associates with Reduced Risk of Dementia

A new study by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland is the first to observe that dietary intake of phosphatidylcholine is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Phosphatidylcholine was also linked to enhanced cognitive performance. The main dietary sources of phosphatidylcholine were eggs and meat. The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Choline is an essential nutrient, usually occurring in food in various compounds. Choline is also necessary for the formation of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter. Earlier studies have linked choline intake with cognitive processing, and adequate choline intake may play a role in the prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, choline is nowadays used in a multinutrient medical drink intended for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s.

The new study now shows that the risk of dementia was 28% lower in men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine, when compared to men with the lowest intake. Men with the highest intake of dietary phosphatidylcholine also excelled in tests measuring their memory and linguistic abilities. These findings are significant, considering that more than 50 million people worldwide are suffering from a memory disorder that has led to dementia, and the number is expected to grow as the population ages. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, for which no cure currently exists. The new findings may, therefore, play a vital role in the prevention of dementia. Successful dementia prevention is a sum of many things and in this equation, even small individual factors can have a positive effect on the overall risk, possibly by preventing or delaying the disease onset.

“However, this is just one observational study, and we need further research before any definitive conclusions can be drawn,” Maija Ylilauri, a PhD Student at the University of Eastern Finland points out.

The data for the study were derived from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, KIHD. At the onset of the study in 1984–1989, researchers analysed approximately 2,500 Finnish men aged between 42 and 60 for their dietary and lifestyle habits, and health in general. These data were combined with their hospital records, cause of death records and medication reimbursement records after an average follow-up period of 22 years. In addition, four years after the study onset, approximately 500 men completed tests measuring their memory and cognitive processing. During the follow-up, 337 men developed dementia.

The analyses extensively accounted for other lifestyle and nutrition related factors that could have explained the observed associations. In addition, the APOE4 gene, which predisposes to Alzheimer’s disease and is common in the Finnish population, was accounted for, showing no significant impact on the findings. The key sources of phosphatidylcholine in the study population’s diet were eggs (39%) and meat (37%).

Source: University of Eastern Finland


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Eating More Foods with Choline During Pregnancy Could Boost Baby’s Brain

When expectant mothers consume sufficient amounts of the nutrient choline during pregnancy, their offspring gain enduring cognitive benefits, a new Cornell University study suggests.

Choline – found in egg yolks, lean red meat, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts and cruciferous vegetables – has many functions, but this study focused on its role in prenatal brain development.

The researchers, who published their findings online in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, used a rigorous study design to show cognitive benefits in the offspring of pregnant women who daily consumed close to twice the currently recommended amount of choline during their last trimester.

“In animal models using rodents, there’s widespread agreement that supplementing the maternal diet with additional amounts of this single nutrient has lifelong benefits on offspring cognitive function,” said Marie Caudill, professor of nutritional sciences and the study’s first author. “Our study provides some evidence that a similar result is found in humans.”

The finding is important because choline is in high demand during pregnancy yet most women consume less than the recommended 450 milligrams per day.

“Part of that is due to current dietary trends and practices,” said Richard Canfield, a developmental psychologist in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the senior author of the study. “There are a lot of choline-rich foods that have a bad reputation these days,” he said. Eggs, for example, are high in cholesterol, and health professionals, including those in the government, have raised caution about pregnant women consuming undercooked eggs, which may deter women from eating them altogether, even though such risks are low for pasteurized or cooked eggs, Canfield said. Red meats are often avoided for their high saturated fat content, and liver is not commonly eaten, he added.

Two previous studies by other research teams had mixed results after examining cognitive effects of maternal choline supplementation, perhaps due to study designs that were not tightly controlled, Caudill said.

In this study, 26 women were randomly divided into two groups and all the women consumed exactly the same diet. Intake of choline and other nutrients were tightly controlled, which was important since the metabolism of choline and its functions can overlap with such nutrients as vitamin B12, folic acid and vitamin B6.

“By ensuring that all the nutrients were provided in equal amounts, we could be confident that the differences in the infants resulted from their choline intake,” Caudill said. In this study, half the women received 480 mg/day of choline, slightly more than the adequate intake level, and the other half received 930 mg/day.

Canfield and co-author Laura Muscalu, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Ithaca College, tested infant information processing speed and visuospatial memory at 4, 7, 10 and 13 months of age. They timed how long each infant took to look toward an image on the periphery of a computer screen, a measure of the time it takes for a cue to produce a motor response. The test has been shown to correlate with IQ in childhood. Also, research by Canfield and others shows that infants who demonstrate fast processing speeds when young typically continue to be fast as they age.

While offspring in both groups showed cognitive benefits, information processing speeds were significantly faster for the group of expectant mothers who consumed 930 mg/day when compared with the group that took 480 mg/day over the same period.

Though the study has a small sample, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring, Canfield said. Current choline intake recommendations are based on amounts required to prevent liver dysfunction, and were extrapolated from studies done in men in part because no studies had investigated requirements during pregnancy.

Source: Cornell University

Gut Bacteria May Turn Common Nutrient into Clot-enhancing Compound

Gut bacteria can produce a clot-enhancing compound when people eat a nutrient found in a variety of foods including meat, eggs and milk, according to new research in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

Excessive blood clotting limits or blocks blood flow which can cause heart attack, stroke, damage to the body’s organs or death.

The new study provides the first direct evidence in humans that consuming excess choline, an essential nutrient plentiful in a Western diet, raises both levels of the bacteria-produced compound, called trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), and the tendency of platelets to clump together and form clots. Numerous studies have shown that higher blood levels of TMAO are associated with a greater risk of heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes in humans, and recent studies showed that feeding animals choline-supplemented diets also raised their risk of clotting.

In this small study, 18 volunteers (8 vegan or vegetarian, 10 omnivores) without heart disease or major risk factors (average age 46 years, 40 percent male), took supplements of 500 milligrams (mg) of choline bitartrate twice daily for two months. The average daily intake is about 302 mg a day.

Researchers found:

  • Blood levels of TMAO rose more than 10 times after both 1 and 2 months of choline supplementation in both vegans/vegetarians and omnivores alike.
  • The tendency of platelets to form clots in a laboratory test rose with choline supplementation.
  • The ability of elevated TMAO levels to promote clot formation was reduced when subjects were also taking a daily baby aspirin (81 mg/day).

“Foods that raise TMAO may increase your risk for clotting and thrombotic events. Unless prescribed by your doctor, avoid supplements with choline. A Mediterranean or vegetarian diet is reported to help reduce TMAO,” said Stanley L. Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the study, chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and section head of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Source: American Heart Association


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