An article warning of the dangers of going vegan is attracting a lot of interest. The theory is that vegans run a real risk of not getting enough of the amino acid choline to sustain decent brain function.
This piece does not mention a large recent review study by Mayo Clinic physicians who concluded that “Contrary to popular belief, ‘vegans have not been shown to be deficient in protein intake or in any specific amino acids.’” (Emphasis added.)
The recent article also ignores that none of the many, many studies on nutrient deficiencies in vegans have ever noted choline deficiency to be a problem. For instance, a PubMed search for systematic reviews of “vegan diet” turns up 18 studies, none of which mention choline as a nutrient to worry about (actually, none mention choline at all). A search for “reviews” of “vegan diet” turn up 128 reviews of the research on the vegan diet. If you add “choline” to the search for “vegan diet” the number of reviews dwindles to zero.
A vegan diet, as any diet, needs to be implemented properly. A vegan eating significant amounts of processed foods, sugars, and high omega 6 foods is going to have problems, just as an omnivore eating lots of processed foods, sugars, and high omega 6 foods will. There are concerns that many vegans are not getting enough B12, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, and calcium. The consensus, however, is that vegans can –and do – easily get choline from plant foods.
In addition, a topic entirely ignored in the Nutritional Insight article, is the fact that animal products high in choline feed intestinal microbes that cause the body to make trimethylamine-n-oxide (TMAO). TMAO in excess spells trouble for the heart and kidney. And some researchers say that using choline to make TMAO may reduce the amount of choline the body can use in, for instance, the brain. As a result, vegans may actually need less dietary choline than an omnivore.
But, even if a vegan needs as much choline as an omnivore, plant foods are fairly rich in choline and a vegan who eats legumes, tofu, green vegetables, potatoes, nuts, seeds, grains, and fruit will not have any problem meeting the minimum daily requirement of choline. So, this article warning of the dangers of veganism is a successful publicity stunt but a poor example of good nutritional research. Derbyshire E. Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037