Is red meat bad for your brain?

2013September04_DietNutrition_ANutrition is vital when it comes to not just a healthy body but also a healthy mind. And a recent study suggests that too much red meat may be linked with Alzheimer’s, with a build up of iron disrupting communication between the neurons in the brain. Too much copper, another heavy metal, could also have a potentially damaging effect too, which is also found in red meat, as well as shellfish. Is it time you put your mind to making sure you’re eating the right balance of foods for a healthier future?

¬†The main risk factor in Alzheimer’s and dementia is ageing, yet a Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior study at UCLA, pinpoints iron as another accelerator in this debilitating disease. The main part of the brain affected is the hippocampus and this is where a build up of plaques occurs, once the tissue that surrounds nerve fibers is destroyed. This tissue is produced by iron-rich brain cells. But too much iron is what researchers believe could be causing the damage.

Alzheimer risk

The study included 31 Alzheimer sufferers and 68 same-age non-affected participants. By focusing on the hippocampus, researchers concluded that increases in iron correlated with tissue damage in those with Alzheimer’s. This was not the case with the control group.

Copper and the brain

Another study at the University of Rochester in New York looked at the impact of copper on mice. The focus here was on how copper interfered with the body’s ability to get rid of damaging proteins that destroy the nerve fiber protection too. This protein causes the plaque to increase and the problem to exacerbate.

However, there is dissension and while these studies do suggest interesting research ideas, in a health area little is still known. With this in mind, it is not enough for people to suddenly cut back drastically on such foods as red meat, but it may be a consideration if you’re a real steak lover and you know your diet could do with a little more balance.

The L-carnitine debate

Copper and iron are vital for the body too but a diet too rich in red meat could be bad for your heart. The research and medical opinions on this are divided too though. Some researchers suggest that while processed meats create a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, unprocessed red meats do not. There is also debate about whether it is L-carnitine, found in meats,  feeding bacteria in the gut that causes heart problems. Some research suggest this is turned into a compound which causes atherosclerosis which leads to blocked arteries. However, fresh red meat contains less L-carnitine than processed meats.

Meat-free days?

While there’s no ultimate proof about the impact and risks to health of eating red meat, the best approach is as ever to eat a good diet and make sure that vegetables are not just a small side. Meat eaters may want to consider taking a healthy leaf out of the vegetarian’s recipe book and have some meat-free days to give their diet and digestion the variety it may need.

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