Episode 2 with Dr Andrew - on the development of the human brain and a plant-based diet
In Episode two Dr Andrew Little and Benny from Garden of Vegan discuss the development of the human brain and the impact diet has had on this. They dispel the myth about protein and its impact on the development of the human brain over time. They also discuss how our goals as a species are changing and keep evolving.
Firstly, Benny asks Dr Andrew to address the myth about protein and its impact on the brain.
We have been led to believe that thanks to protein, we are who we are as a species, as our brain is meant to thrive off protein. We have also been told that protein from meat is crucial for the development of the brain.
In addressing this myth, Dr Andrew questions if we are even one of the smartest species on this planet as he states we are the only species that actively destroys our home. Mmmm, interesting creatures we are.
Other species seem to have it worked out in his opinion, as they live in harmony with the land.
Dr Andrew believes in the theory of evolution. His scientific background supports this theory and he goes on to explain, specifically referencing the hypothesis created by Raymond Dart. Raymond Dart was Australian born, South African anthropologist and palaeontologist who according to Dr Little, believed that meat or protein led to the evolution of the human brain. Raymond Dart was a medic in WWI. He witnessed first hand, humans killing each other. His hypothesis came from his experience of humans during the war who turned their knives on each other and allegedly ate each other.
After hearing this, Dr Andrew began to question the hypothesis. He found that we are not the only species on the planet that ate meat. For example, crocodiles and alligators. They eat meat and have what most could consider a ‘high’ protein diet. Their brain has not evolved in any capacity throughout their evolution nor has it allowed them to be able to fly space ships to the moon. This may sound silly, but this is the exact argument. If meat was responsible for making the human brain evolve why hasn’t it done so for other species in some way shape or form? This just was not making any sense for Dr Little. So, he kept digging.
As a race, we have evolved. Yes, we started eating meat for survival, however our goals today have changed. During the cavemen era, you were lucky to survive and live to 25 years of age. If you survived and lived to 25 years of age it generally meant that you hadn’t been eaten by an animal, or you hadn’t died during childbirth if you were lucky enough to procreate. Disease, illness and unhygienic living conditions contributed to the low life expectancy of humans during this time. Today our goals are very different. Dr Andrew hopes to live to the ripe old age of 100 and be mowing his lawn on his 100th birthday. What a goal he has set for himself. Simply, our priorities have changed over time and the health status of the human race has evolved in many ways. Life expectancy has increased yet we are still crippled with high amounts of chronic lifestyle disease and illness that interferes with the quality of life. We have changed physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and technologically as a society. If we want to keep evolving, we need to start looking at the evidence as well as the forecasts of health for humans and for the environment. Dr Andrew states that it is time to start thinking about how we can preserve the planet or life as we know it may cease to exist. He believes that we need to address what is killing the planet. We need to address our diet, lifestyle choices, energy exchanges, our needs and wants, consumerism, transport EVERYTHING.
How does all of this link to the brain and the protein debate? It simply reinforces what we have learnt from the evidence behind our evolution and projectory of where we can learn, correct and keep evolving. Dr Andrew goes on to break down some of the physiological evidence behind the evolution of the human brain,
He states that the most critical period of a infants brain is from the ages of 0-4. This is the most crucial time for brain development. A child starts its life with twice as many neurons as an adult. During the time of approximately 3-4 years, the brain goes under the process of adaption whereby in short connections get strengthened and weaker connections get destroyed. The primary fuel source that has been designed by nature over millions of years of evolution to assist in the development of the brain is a mothers breastmilk. Human breast milk is made up of the highest carbohydrate and lowest protein content, when compared to any other species breast milk. So, is it protein that fuels the brain? No, it's not.
Dr Andrew explains that the brain is composed of approximately 60% fat. Protein is used to make some of the neurons in the brain however, he strongly believes thanks to his research and experience, that you get enough protein from the plants you eat which will help to develop the brain. This goes back to the photosynthesis argument addressed in episode 1.
He continues to explain that the only fuel source that can cross the blood brain barrier, which protects our brain from infections is carbohydrates. So what about ketones? Yes, ketones cross the blood brain barrier but as a survival mechanism only. When on the keto diet, your brain is so severely depleted of carbohydrates, that it will start breaking down fats into very small molecules to create energy in periods of intense stress or starvation. After 48 hours of starvation you enter ketosis. The body then relies on its glycogen stores to power the brain.
Fun fact; Carbohydrates release the most amount of energy per gram. More than ketones, more than fats and more than protein.
Dr Andrew states that carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for the brain.Another example we can look at is Neanderthals. Yes, they ate meat but did it cause the evolution of the human brain?
The scientific evidence today is pointing strongly towards a plant-based diet being optimal for humans. This comes after years of scientific research and evidence throughout our evolution.
As Benny suggests, cavemen were not living very well or long. Our ancestors were not living to a ripe old age. Dr Andrew states that 20,000 years ago our brains were bigger. They have shrunk today to the size of a tennis ball.
What can we learn from our evolution and the impact of our diet on our development and survival as a species?
In short, carbohydrates power the brain and should not be feared. The brain requires high blood flow and demands oxygen. The reason it needs carbohydrates and oxygen is to power the brain.