Vegan and Plant-Based Diets Worsen Brain Health

Summary: Eating a vegan or plant-based diet can be bad for your brain health, especially if you already have a low choline intake, researchers report.

Source: BMJ

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 specializing 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, recognizing 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 authorization 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.

This shows a woman holding up veggies
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. The image is in the public domain.

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.

About this neuroscience research article

Media Contacts:
Press Office – BMJ
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Open access
“Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom?”. Emma Derbyshire.
BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health. doi:10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037


Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom?

Choline can be likened to omega-3 fatty acids in that it is an ‘essential’ nutrient that cannot be produced by the body in amounts needed for human requirements. The United States (US) Institute of Medicine (IOM)1 and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)2 recognise that choline plays an important role in the human body and have established dietary reference values. The American Medical Association3 in 2017 published new advice stating that prenatal vitamin supplements should contain “evidenced-based” amounts of choline. Similarly the American Academy of Paediatrics4 5 (from 2018) called on paediatricians to move beyond simply recommending a “good diet” and to make sure that pregnant women and young children have access to food that provides adequate amounts of “brain-building” nutrients with choline being listed as one of these. Unfortunately, in the UK choline is not yet included in food composition databases, main nutrition surveys nor official recommendations. The present article discusses the current choline situation and explains why more needs to be done to include and monitor this essential nutrient in the UK.

Feel free to share this Neuroscience News.
Join our Newsletter
I agree to have my personal information transferred to AWeber for Neuroscience Newsletter ( more information )
Sign up to receive our recent neuroscience headlines and summaries sent to your email once a day, totally free.
We hate spam and only use your email to contact you about newsletters. You can cancel your subscription any time.
  1. What Are Some Facts to Consider Before You Rush to the Butcher Shop?

    1) Easily searchable is the fact that Dr. Derbyshire serves on the expert panel for the Meat Advisory Board, whose purpose is to provide information on meat in a healthy, balanced diet. Her prior work includes funding by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, representing the interests of beef, lamb, pork, and dairy producers. This does not prove a bias, but it does not exclude it either. Clearly, the opinion piece suggested eating meat was healthy.

    2) There was no mention of trimethyl-N-amine oxide (TMAO) and choline. TMAO was described in 2011 as a metabolite formed by the ingestion of red meat, egg yolk, and supplements with choline and L-carnitine that promote platelet clumping and atherosclerosis. Elevated levels of TMAO have been associated with higher mortality rates in certain patient groups. Even a brief review of recent original research would have revealed that choline supplements may increase platelet aggregation as has been shown. Derbyshire chose to ignore over 1,000 citations regarding TMAO in the National Library of Medicine.

    3) Ignored were Comments by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who published a guideline regarding vegetarian and vegan diets without commenting on a choline crisis.

    4) Ignored were Comments by the National Institutes of Health on the rarity of choline deficiency syndromes. This comprehensive document indicated there was insufficient data to establish estimated average requirements for choline.

    5) Ignored were data associating a higher dietary choline level and all-cause mortality.

    6) The association of choline levels and certain cancers, and their malignant behavior, was not mentioned.

    7) Omitted was the fact that of the top 12 dietary sources of choline listed by the National Institutes of Health, 6 are whole plant foods including roasted soybeans, shitake mushrooms, red potatoes, wheat germ, kidney beans, and quinoa with Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and peanuts close behind on the list.

  2. Nathan- You’re an idiot. I have NAFL And I got it while being vegan, for 5 years.
    A vegetarian diet does not protect against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): A cross-sectional study between Buddhist priests and the general population. … BACKGROUND/AIMS: There is limited data that supports a role for a vegetarian diet in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

  3. I can save you a lot of time. In short:
    If your vegan diet is not balanced, you can have deficit of choline. Same as any other vitamine or on any other not balanced diet :D have a nice day.

  4. This is very clearly an effort by neurosciencenews to generate traffic with a misleading clickbait article. They’re concerned about the effects of low choline but recommend dairy… there are no words.

  5. The title to the article is ridiculously misleading. The title says the diet IS bad, but then the article and research says it can be if they’re low in choline. An awful misleading, outright lying title, as bad as a clickbait title from buzz feed or The Sun newspaper.

  6. What a load of biased meat a D dairy industry based propaganda in order to try and eliminate further anyone interested in turning towards a vegan diet. Vegan done properly is absolutely fine. It pisses me off when the self righteous meat eaters keep trying defend themselves be ause they either a. Love the taste of meat or b. meat farmers don’t want to lose money. What these farmers could do is switch what they produce. Its incredibly short sighted. But yeah, the average person on the street would buy into this rubbish biased information. What we need is the human race to wake up and learn! Watch Cowspiracy, What the Health, Forks over Knives and start following some serious educated plant based Dr’s such as Dr Klapper, Dr Gregor, Dr Campbell, Dr Essysten, Dr Garth Davis, Dr pam popper, Dr Milton Mills to name but a few.

    Keep up the fight vegans because notwithstanding, if meat eaters watched documentaries like Dominion, they would vomit with what pain and torture our animals endure, the pollution we make by using them. We are a disgrace and all for the want of MONEY. The meat and dairy industry don’t want you to be well. Too much money to be made with you being sick! Think about it!

  7. Vegan Hysteria

    Is there anything that a Vegan first do? Going Vegan will not save the planet (but it’s one Hell if a selling point). Going Vegan is an elimination diet.
    Vegan is no more better or worse than Adkins,
    Paleo, Carnivore or any other diet with restrictions.
    In fact we have highly processed food being passed off as Vegan or Vegetarian in the form of Beyond Burger or Impossible Burger. Yet the Vegan community is dumbfounded by this product because it’s fake processed meat.
    Finally the key to longevity is eating Whole Foods, organic meats in a caloric deficit. Fasting which is proven to cleanse the body of toxins. Working out especially with weights which packs on lean muscle and makes you crave high quality meats.
    So sorry Vegans, but this is another fad diet which will be over in about 3 years and most giving up after a year. If you can stay the course more power to you, but let’s knock no off the superior attitude of a self serving diet which is anything except another elimination diet.

  8. Couldn’t we take this down because of false information? How people can sue when they buy a product because of false advertising? Kinda dumb, she needs to actually do research than spreading lies. Someone who has a position in meat board shouldn’t be talking about other people’s diets.

  9. First it was an issue about protein, then we found out recycled B12 is better than getting it straight from the source, now we aren’t getting enough choline?
    Haha oh ignorance, how blissfully dangerous you can be.

  10. I guess university degrees and working at the top of your field must be getting easier since, being vegan since birth, I can’t possibly have been getting enough of this smart food as all the people eating meat!

  11. Dr Derbyshire also ommited numerous studies linking high intake of choline to cancer. Obviously the “journalist” that wrote this piece also failed to do any kind of research on the subject. Sad.

  12. Biased article with funding from the meat industry..
    Not a mention of stress hormones or antibiotic usage in the meat consumed..
    I will stick to my plant based diet..thank you.

  13. If you are going to call yourself “Neurosciencenews” you should stick with publishing conclusions backed by data, not baseless industry-funded propaganda!

  14. Absolutely ridiculous, obviously biased and nothing more than an opinion. Your average Joe might read an article like this and take it as gospel, but for anyone with even the slightest bit of knowledge and critical thinking knows this is rubbish. No one should be interested in the opinion of anybody, let alone someone from a meat advisory panel. The science does not support the claim of insufficient choline intake amongst vegans, and the largest nutrition advisory on the planet clearly state’s based on the evidence, that a whole food plant based diet is adequate for all stages of life.

  15. Says Dr. Emma Derbyshire, who is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and a vocal advocate of meat consumption.

  16. So you basically say that the vegan diet is also complete of this nutrient, since its also found in plant based foods!

  17. Very disappointing to see this site publishing this “information” and failing to mention the “competing interests” section at the end of the paper which states: “[Emma Derbyshire] is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel which receives an educational grant from the meat industry.”

    It’s sad that the editors of this site choose not to share such crucial conflict of interest.

  18. Totally absurd! In that case, in India, large section of population are vegetarians for centuries and some people don’t even take milk like vegans, and surprisingly those vegetarians don’t match with
    any points of the anobe article anywhere , for your kind reference. Please Dont spread fake news .

  19. You will suffer from important nutrients if you do not eat vegan as well – from your point of view it would mean that simply because someone does not follow a plant based diet he would have all important nutrients. Even when only eating fast food. And that’s total bullshit!
    Apartment from that, people eating meat and dairy products also suffer from lacking B12 a lot, since it’s hardly available anymore due to the farming with pesticides nowadays.

    Going vegan IS more healthy AND better for the planet + all it’s living beings on it. You cannot deny this fact – just do your research on CO2 emission, for example and of course, all the suffering of the animals and the tons of water + food going into the meat/dairy industry that could easily feed other people who are starving just because other people “cannot live without their meat”.

  20. Wow really? Getting tired of reading articles that bash a vegan diet because if you don’t eat a balanced vegan diet it’s bad. So I guess if you eat an unbalanced mainstream diet your ok since you make no mention of that in your article. Any vegan who eats a balanced vegan diet eats plenty of the plant based sources of choline. I am 63 and have been vegan for 33 years and have no health problems related to diet and the blood work to back it up.

  21. The fact that this article is by Nutritional consultant Dr. Emma Derbyshire, who is a member of the Meat Advisory Panel and a vocal advocate of meat consumption, makes the entire claim of insufficient choline intake in vegan and plant-based diets highly suspicious, to say the least. I think this is definitely a case of a conflict of interests.

  22. OH PULEEZE! The ONLY thing eating animals serves is funding research in how to cure diseases that would never have arisen in the first place if humans ate our ideal diet from God’s gift of 70,000 plant foods. Instead we polluted our cells with animal fat and animal protein, pathology from the concept of animals as products!!!

  23. Paid for by the meat and dairy industry. Stay fat and unhealthy western people. Long live Agrifarming and animal cruelty!

  24. WRONG ! As a matter of fact, all the dementia, brain clogging diseases, prions infecting human brains turning them into hole filled sponges, IS FROM EATING ANIMALS! Read Power Foods For The Brain, by Dr. Neal Barnard! Not only does eating flesh rot the brain, it rots the colon since humans are natural herbivores with LONG colons, unlike carnivores who have short intestines and stronger stomach and mouth enzymes to break down flesh. Sad that the meat industry appears to have it’s bloody mitts all over science,medicine, education, and every other form of “programming: to keep its nasty inhumane self solvent. Economies of animals as commodities may have shaped empires but it also shaped everything vulgar, base, violent and ill fated in human society. That’s why there’s all the economies of medicine, including neuroscience. Humans polluted their genes and now capitalize on funding this absurdity to correct the ills of horrible concept of animals as products, the genesis of all sickness,

  25. Tbe person who published this study in BMJ is a member of the meat and dairy advisory committee and she was heavily criticised by other scientists for her clearly biased take on the topic. Vegans can get plenty of Choline through tofu, pulses and legumes and our body also makes it own choline. This is clearly scare mongering by the meat and dairy industry due to the rise in Veganism.

  26. This is a paid propaganda from the meat and dairy industry.

    This isn’t from a peer reviewed research.

    This is one person’s opinion which she has edited recently in the “blog” that she took money from meat and dairy friends to write a crooked biased “science” which is basically fake news like Trump.

    Further, there are peer reviewed research on adverse effects of excess choline on our health which happens on a high animal fat diet.

    Find out the truth before spreading the anti-vegan propaganda like a triggered teen.

  27. Eggs have very little choline. You can get plenty by eating plant sources. Dr. Derbyshire sits on a meat “advisory” board. If vegans had low levels of choline they would have fatty liver but vegans have less fatty livers than animal protien eaters. They would have more heart disease and more alzheimer disease but they have less than the general population.This article is very misleading.

  28. This isn’t Neuroscience, this is nonsense. The meat and dairy industry’s last desperate attempt to scare people with lies, deceit and misinformation about Vegetarianism just so they can keep their wallets fat. The animal cruelty going on, the health consequences of eating animals continuing so the doctors in Pharmaceuticals can become zillionaires.

  29. Such bullshit. Stop spreading lies. You guys are just scared because vegan are winning.

Comments are closed.