Healthy Living

How Does Going Vegan Affect The Brain?

The vegan diet has been linked to weight loss, better blood sugar levels and lower risk of having cancer or heart disease. But the growing number of studies exploring its effects raised concerns with the eating plan’s effects on the brain.

Plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, phytochemicals and unsaturated fatty acids. Experts said these compounds help boost the growth, connection and survival of brain cells. 

One study in 2010 suggested that people who eat only vegetables and fruits may have higher brain activity that support self-control, empathy and interoception compared to people with animal-based products in their daily meals. 

“According to some observational data, lifelong vegetarians and vegans actually have a lower risk of developing dementia,” Scott Kaiser, a physician at Providence Saint John's Health Center, told Bustle

However, a large and recent review of previous studies focused on vegan diets questioned the effects of the eating plan on the brain. Researchers said they did not find any concrete evidence that going vegan helps prevent cognitive decline. 

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry in 2019, highlights that research about the effects of veganism on brain health is “scarce and rather inconclusive.” 

“Our review could not find randomized control trials on brain structure or function with regard to plant-based diets,” Evelyn Medawar, lead study author and a doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, said. “However, we found some inconclusive evidence for mental health-related associations with plant-based diets.”

There are also earlier studies that provided conflicting findings after analyzing the health of vegetarians. One research showed that vegan diets could help manage mood disturbances, but a separate analysis warned that eating only plants may increase depressive symptoms.

In addition, not all vegan diets are created equal. Some forms of the eating plan put people at risk of deficiencies that negatively affect brain health. 

“If all you ate was pure sugar, that would technically be considered vegan but could be extremely toxic to the brain,” Kaiser said. 

Avoiding animal products also make vegans more likely to get very low levels of B12 and choline, which both play important roles in the brain's production of neurotransmitters. The brain also uses healthy fats and proteins to support its functions.

More large and long-term studies are needed to fully understand how vegan diet affects brain health. Medawar said future efforts should focus on the behavior and particular compounds in vegetables and fruits.

Vegan Animal welfare groups call for people to go vegan to avoid further pandemics in the future. Pixabay