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Milk Does a Brain Good, But where is the evidence?

Essentially, I addressed this question in my 1993 article in Back to Godhead magazine, “Is Milk for Everyone?” Here’s an except from my article:


Who Needs Milk?

Milk is an excellent source of three important nutrients: protein, calcium, and several B vitamins. Though the body can get protein and calcium from other sources, for certain B vitamins the body depends on milk.

In the vegetarian diet, milk plays an essential role by providing vitamin B12 (cobalamin). Most animals have micro-organisms in their stomachs that produce B12, but human beings do not. Their only natural sources of B12 are meat and milk. The body needs vitamin B12 to properly develop red blood cells. A deficiency can cause pernicious and megaloblastic anemia.

For anyone trying to understand the subtleties of spiritual science, possibly the most important role of vitamin B12 is that it helps maintain proper functioning of the nervous system, including brain cells. A deficiency of B12 may take as long as five to ten years to show, but gradually it leads to “unsteadiness, poor memory, confusion, moodiness, delusions, overt psychosis, and eventually death.”

Srila Prabhupada emphasizes the value of milk in developing brain tissue for spiritual understanding:

The cow is the most important animal for developing the human body to perfection. The body can be maintained by any kind of foodstuff, but cow’s milk is particularly essential for developing the finer tissues of the human brain so that one can understand the intricacies of transcendental knowledge.

— Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.5.7, purport

The B12 content of milk is greatest in whole milk, fresh from the cow. But the body needs only a small amount of B12, and it can get what it needs even when the milk is heated. Ninety percent of the B12 remains after pasteurization, and seventy percent remains after boiling from two to five minutes.


Of course, conscientious vegans can obtain their vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast and things like seaweed and miso, but most safely must rely on artificial supplements, to avoid nerve and heart damage. I respect the conviction of those who want to do this, wishing to avoid the violence connected with getting milk from animals that they themselves are not able to protect.

However, in all honesty, a vegan diet cannot be regarded as a natural diet, and it is telling that although there are a number of examples of traditional vegetarian societies around the world — even outside India, such as the Buganda of Africa — there is not one example of a traditional vegan society anywhere in history. The simple fact is that without modern artificial vitamin B12 supplements, in earlier historical eras, all the children in such a society would have died from malnutrition.

The ideal solution to the moral vegan’s predicament, is to be able to take loving care of the cows and offer the milk to the radiantly beautiful forms of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna.

On the other hand, for as long as we continue to offer into the sacrificial fire ghee made of butter from cows who have already been slaughtered, it is a great shame on us if we point an accusing finger at such thoughtful vegans
— better to improve our own cow protection programs first, by providing our young people training and land to protect the cows. Honest vegans will surely enjoy such milk when they see the actual love — from both cow and cowherd — that goes into producing it and offering it to Krishna. But we must produce it first.

For more information, below is a recent excerpt from a Canadian source on the topic of milk and vitamin B12.

your servant,

Hare Krsna dasi


Milk as Brain Food

Fact: All Canadians especially pregnant women, children and older adults, should be encouraged to consume recommended daily intakes of milk and milk products, the most bioavailable source of naturally occurring B12 in the diet.

The only natural source of vitamin B12 is food of animal origin. Foods rich in B12 include dairy, fish, meat, poultry, eggs and shellfish. Inadequate intakes have been shown to be an important contributor to low vitamin B12 serum concentrations. Recent studies show that the vitamin B12 in meat, the major source of vitamin B12 for most individuals, may be less available than the vitamin B12 in dairy products1. Nutritional B12 deficiency can develop easily in strict vegetarians and those who follow macrobiotic diets since they typically avoid the foods that are rich in B12.

There is little information on the prevalence of B12 deficiency in Canada. But a recent Canadian cross-sectional study of 1,424 pregnant women in Newfoundland found that 43.6% of women were B12 deficient or had marginal B12 levels2.

We know that specific nutrient deficiencies can cause low birth weight and spina bifida, so it is also possible to envisage nutrient deficiencies affecting brain development in infants causing adverse effects. Reports of B12 deficient infants (several of strict vegetarian mothers) showed anemia, irritability, anorexia and failure to thrive, as well as marked developmental regression and poor brain growth3,4. The age of onset of symptoms may be important, as may the duration of symptoms. Although the response to treatment in the short term is encouraging, complete neurologic recovery may never be complete3.

In a review by Graham, only 2 of 6 reported cases had normal intellectual outcome at 9 – 11 years. Another study reporting on older children discovered that B12 deficiency early in life, due to macrobiotic diet consumption to the age of 6 years, may not be overcome in adolescence following moderate consumption of B12 after the age of 6 years5. Children on macrobiotic diets until the age of 6 with marginal vitamin B12 status were not able to overcome cognitive problems, due to the deficiency, regardless of moderate B12 intakes in later years6.

In fact, previously ‘macrobiotic’ subjects with low or normal vitamin B12 status scored significantly lower in intelligence tests measuring reasoning, capacity to solve complex problems, abstract thinking ability and ability to learn3. These studies demonstrate the potential long-term risk in cognitive function that can occur in children who persistently avoid animal products due to medical reasons, beliefs, poverty or eating habits during the formative years.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is estimated to affect 10-15% of people over age 607. Prevalence of B12 deficiency increases with age, especially over 65, and is frequently associated with Alzheimer’s disease8. Neurologic complications are found in 75-90% of individuals with clinically apparent vitamin B12 deficiency. While low serum cobalamin levels are often found in apparently normal older subjects, a major worry of leaving vitamin B12 deficiency untreated is that it may lead to subtle deterioration in cognitive function7.

Cognitive syndromes such as dementia, hallucination, frank psychosis, paranoia, depression, violent behaviour and changes in personality are not frequent, but vitamin B12 deficiency should be considered as a possible cause of these symptoms9. In fact vitamin B12 assay is part of the routine investigation of dementia in the United Kingdom. A study by Eastley et al10 of 1,432 patients found a positive treatment effect of B12 among patients presenting with cognitive impairment. However, in the same study none of the B12 deficiency-related-dementia was reversed with the treatment of B12.

1. Tucker, KL et al. 2000. Plasma vitamin B12 concentrations relate to intake source in the Framingham Offspring Study. Am J Clin Nutr 71:514-22.
2. House, JD et al. 2000. Folate and vitamin B12 status of women in Newfoundland at their first prenatal visit. Can Med Assoc J 162(11):1557-9.
3. Graham, SM et al. 1992. Long-term neurologic consequences of nutritional vitamin B12 deficiency in infants. J Pediatr 121(5pt1)710-4.
4. Stollhoff, K and Schulte, FJ. 1987. Vitamin B12 and brain development. Eur J Pediatr 146(2):201-5.
5. Van Dusseldorp, M et al. 1999. Risk of persistent cobalamin deficiency in adolescents fed a macrobiotic diet in early life. Am J Clin Nutr 60:661-7.
6. Louwman, MWJ et al. 2000. Signs of impaired cognitive function in adolescents with marginal cobalamin status. Am J Clin Nutr 72:762-9. 7. Baik, HW and Russell, RM. 1999. Vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. Annu Rev Nutr 19:357-77.
8. Wynn, M et al. 1998. The danger of B12 deficiency in the elderly. Nutr Health 12(4):215-26.
9. Zucker, DK et al. 1981. B12 deficiency and psychiatric disorders: case report and literature review. Biol Psychiatry 16(2):197-205.
10. Eastley, R et al. 2000. Vitamin B12 deficiency in dementia and cognitive impairment: the effects of treatment on neuropsychological function. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 15(3):226-33.

» Posted By Hare Krishna Dasi On Feb 21, 2008 @ 7:08 pm

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