Drew Ramsey argues in his blog post that our brains need meat for optimal development and functioning.
Does the author know what he’s talking about?
Drew Ramsey, M.D. is an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. His clinical work focuses on the treatment of depression and anxiety with a combination of psychotherapy, lifestyle modification, and psychopharmacology.
Ramsey may not seem like an expert in nutrition from this statement, but part of lifestyle modification to treat depression and anxiety involves eating a careful healthy diet, especially to avoid any psychoactive ingredients like caffeine and those found in alcohol.
He also serves as a thesis mentor for graduate students at the Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition. Regularly providing expert comment on psychiatry-related topics to the news media, he hopes to help bridge the gap between academic medicine and the public. In 2008, he turned his attention to changes in the American food supply and how diet influences brain health and mental wellness. His first book, The Happiness Diet, written with Tyler Graham, was published by Rodale in 2011.
Ramsey has experience in the field of nutrition from his authority to mentor on theses on human nutrition and his research he did for his book. His topic of the relation between diet and brain health is important when researching the value of meat in our diets. Our brains play probably the largest role in making us who we are as humans, and what we eat changes our brain chemistry. If our brains need meat to thrive, that becomes one strong argument for meat eaters.
What is the Author Talking About?
In his blog post “Do Happy, Healthy Brains Need Meat?” on “The Farmacy,” Drew Ramsey makes an appealing argument for both vegetarians and meat eaters. His basic argument is that we definitely need meat, but we only need a small amount of high quality meat. He leaves the reader with this logical conclusion:
Mankind is often cruel to animals, but Mother Nature is much crueler. In the wild, defenseless creatures like cows and chickens would be subject to hunger, disease and predation. By contrast, when animal husbandry is practiced at the highest standards, the grass-fed cows raised in pastures and the cage-free chickens raised in open pens arguably have the most pain-free, hunger-free, stress-free lives of all animals on earth. In exchange for their meat, they enjoy the most mutually beneficial relationship with humans outside that of our beloved house pets. What is unethical about that?
He settles some of the animal welfare arguments by agreeing that the current meat industry is working unethically, and then is able to focus on more of the biological aspect of meat in our diets.
One of the greatest reasons for vegetarianism/veganism is the issue of animal wellbeing. A vegan would surely never want to deprive an animal of the nutrients it needs. The lion’s natural diet consists solely of meat and it knows how and what to feed itself. Feeding a meat free diet to a lion would be unnatural and the lion would suffer greatly. But why doesn’t that logic apply to us human animals in the vegetarian mind? We are classified as an omnivorous species and can eat almost anything on the planet. If we have included meat in our diets for over 2 million years, wouldn’t it be unsafe to exclude it now, just as it is unsafe to alter any animal’s natural diet? Ramsey puts it this way: “If the human brain requires animal nutrients for healthy functioning, how can it be ethical to deprive the brain of what nature says it needs?”
Vitamin B12, like the other B vitamins, is important for metabolism. It helps in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system. The body absorbs animal sources of vitamin B12 much better than plant sources. Non-animal sources of vitamin B12 vary in their amount of B12. They are not thought to be reliable sources of the vitamin.
Ramsey confirms the fact that non-animal sources of vitamin B12 are unreliable with a study done on serum concentrations of vitamin B12 in British male omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans. The conclusion from the study, done in 2010, was that vegans have lower vitamin B12 concentrations than vegetarians and omnivores. Half of the vegans were deemed vitamin B12 deficient and are at higher risk of developing symptoms related to vitamin B12 deficiency. The same MedlinePlus fact sheet on vitamin B12 states that deficiencies of it can cause anemia, loss of balance, numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, and weakness.
I admit that Ramsey’s blog post was very convincing, especially because he admitted to understanding the evils of the meat industry: “Granted, how we raise and eat animals today leaves much to be desired. Crowded feedlots, antibiotic overuse, cramped cages and other inhumane features of our food production system are indefensible.” But this does not mean his other arguments and evidence are completely correct. The study he cited concluded that the vegans were deficient in vitamin B12, but did not state if any of them were actually experiencing any side effects of deficiency. There are also many vegans/vegetarians that do not know how to nourish themselves. Many people have quit following these diets because they do not eat enough variety of foods to cover all nutrients. Naturally when something is missing, the body cannot function normally, so for many, the obvious conclusion is that vegetarian diets do not allow optimal health. Studies of vegetarians and vegans need to be reevaluated for how well the subjects nourish themselves in the first place.
I believe that unless more studies are done on effective vegetarians/vegans, many arguments made in Ramsey’s blog post cannot be confirmed or denied at this time. Our omnivorous status may actually be a factor of the human’s quick ability to adapt to any changes in our environments. We could be omnivores so that we are able to survive in all kinds of environments, where we can or cannot find meat and other animal products. If the people surviving without animal products were truly suffering under their selective diets, there would be much more shunning of the diet and less praise for it in the media. The media may also play a factor in glorifying the diet without giving people the resources to effectively nourish themselves on the diet. Though this blog post is logical, I’m not quite convinced that animal products are needed in our diets.
Drew Ramsey’s Blog Post: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-farmacy/201205/do-happy-healthy-brains-need-meat
MedlinePlus Fact Sheet: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002403.htm
Vitamin B12 Study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20648045