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In the Western world, we increasingly hear that we should be consuming less meat.

Interestingly enough, our forebears would have enjoyed the luxury of eating meat at nearly every evening meal. That option was not open for many of them.

Meat — especially red meat — has dietary importance for humans at every stage in their lives.

Children and adolescents

A 2007 study showed that meat is vital for children and adolescents. The following study, summarised below, is from the September 1, 2007 issue of The Journal of the Dieticians Association of Australia and appears at The Free Library.

These are the key points (emphases mine):

* Optimal nutrition during the first years of life is crucial for optimal growth and development and, possibly, the prevention of chronic disease of adulthood.

* Iron-deficiency anaemia in childhood and adolescence is associated with serious adverse outcomes that may not be reversible, making detection and early treatment an imperative.

* Zinc plays a major role in cellular growth.

* Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the eyes and the immune system.

* Vitamin A is necessary for membrane stability, and zinc is essential for mobilisation of the beta-carotene. Vitamin A deficiency contributes to anaemia by immobilising iron in the reticuloendothelial system, reducing haemopoiesis and increasing susceptibility to infections.

* Like iron, iodine appears to be involved in myelin production and, hence, nerve conduction.

* Meat is a core food in the diet for children and adolescents because it provides significant amounts of these micronutrients.

Meat is essential in ensuring that nerve and motor development evolve for overall health, particularly for the myelin sheath, which a number of us will remember studying in our high school biology classes:

Development of functional activity may be associated with myelination. Many nerve fibres are covered with a whitish, fatty, segmented sheath called the myelin sheath. Myelin protects and electrically insulates fibres from one another and increases the speed of transmission of the nerve impulses. Myelinated fibres conduct nerve impulses rapidly, whereas unmyelinated fibres tend to conduct quite slowly. This acceleration of nerve conduction is essential for the function of the body and survival. In humans, the myelin sheath begins to appear around the fourth month of foetal development and first appears in the spinal cord before spreading to the higher centres of the brain. It is assumed that this myelination precedes functional activity. This paper considers micronutrient deficiency in the context of myelination and other developmental features to highlight the need for micronutrients which can be delivered in the diet through red meat.

Note: red meat.

Meat provides the following essential building blocks to good developmental health.

Iron

A young brain needs iron:

Iron is essential for brain development. Brain iron is stored preferentially in the extra pyramidal tracts and is laid down in the first 12 months of life. Once the blood-brain barrier closes, very little iron can be deposited in the brain and, hence, an adequate dietary intake of iron is essential during this critical period … Several studies have now shown that iron-deficient anaemic 6- to 24-month-old infants can score lower on tests of mental development compared with non-iron-deficient controls (13,19,20) and are at risk for poorer cognitive, motor, social-emotional and neurophysiological development at least in the short term. Furthermore, at least one study has shown that these deficits appear to be permanent. (19) These infants appeared to have reproducible deficits in body balance and coordination and in language skills, which could be interpreted as implying problems with nerve conduction and hence myelination

Required iron levels vary with the onset of adolescence. Boys need less. Girls need more:

With the slowing of growth, at the end of puberty, iron requirements decline. Although girls develop less extra muscle tissue than boys, menarche increases the need for iron, and this increased need continues throughout reproductive life. (37) The adolescent girl is therefore at risk for developing ID due to the combined effects of continuing growth, menstrual iron losses and a low intake of dietary iron.

Zinc

Zinc deficiencies can affect mental and physical health:

Zinc is also an essential nutrient for human health. Zinc plays a major role in cellular growth, where it is crucial in the enzyme systems necessary for the production of RNA and DNA. In the brain, zinc binds with proteins and is involved with both structure and function. Severe zinc deficiency in animals has been associated with significant malformations such as anencephaly and microcephaly, and with functional deficits such as short-term memory deficits and behavioural problems. (23) In humans, cerebella dysfunction, behavioural and emotional disturbances have all been described. (23) In spite of the proven benefits of adequate zinc nutrition, approximately 2 billion people still remain at risk of zinc deficiency. (6) When zinc is provided as a supplement to children in lower-income countries, it reduces the frequency and severity of diarrhoea, pneumonia, and possibly malaria. Moreover, studies have shown that children who receive zinc supplements have lower death rates. (6)

Vitamin A

Many children in the developing world lack adequate Vitamin A. Vitamin A needs zinc:

Vitamin A is necessary for membrane stability, and zinc is essential for mobilisation of the beta-carotene. Vitamin A deficiency contributes to anaemia by immobilising iron in the reticuloendothelial system, reducing haemopoiesis and increasing susceptibility to infections. Vitamin A is essential for the functioning of the eyes as well as the immune system.

Vitamin A deficiency is associated with impaired humoral and cellular immune function, keratinisation of the respiratory epithelium and decreased mucus secretion, which weaken barriers to infection.

Iodine

Iodine deficiency is a worldwide problem:

Iodine deficiency is estimated to have lowered the intellectual capacity of almost all of the nations reviewed by as much as 10-15%. (6) In developed nations there has been a recent and disturbing increase in iodine deficiency, with as many as 25% of children and women of child-bearing age being deficient. (6) This increase has coincided with the declining dietary intake of iodized salt and also the elimination of iodophor-based cleaning compounds in commercial dairies. (25) Impaired physical and mental development is common. (26) Foetal iodine deficiency in the first and early second trimester of pregnancy results in retardation and deaf mutism, whereas in the early postnatal period, the main abnormalities are growth stunting and somatic abnormalities. (27) The hearing loss can be variable, depending on the age of onset, and can also be associated with dysarthria and other disorders of speechThe critical stage of foetal development for iodine appears to be around the 14th week of foetal lifeLike iron, iodine appears to be involved in myelin production and, hence, nerve conduction. This appears to be supported in animal model research where rats fed upon an iodine-deficient diet were found to have alterations in myelin basic protein immunoreactivity and hence function. (29) 

The paper’s summary makes salient points about meat and the types of necessary meat protein:

Meat plays a central role in the diet, providing a significant contribution to the intakes of 10 key nutrients: energy, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron and zinc. In young children, an over-dependence on milk may put young children at increased risk of poor iron status, owing to its displacement of iron-rich or iron-enhancing foods from the diet. This risk becomes nonsignificant when moderate to high amounts of iron-rich or iron-enhancing foods (e.g. meat and fruit, respectively) are also consumed. A study performed on infants in the UK has shown that the addition of meat powder to a weaning food has a marked enhancing effect on the absorption of iron, (38) which reinforces the fact that lean red meat is not only an appropriate weaning food but should be considered an essential food during the critical stages of brain development. Dietary diversification involves promotion of a diet with a wider variety of naturally iron-containing foods, especially red meat, poultry and fish. These foods have a high content of highly bioavailable haem iron, and thus are most appropriate for infants and children on weaning. Despite their widespread availability, foods from this group are not always used or may be diluted before use (e.g. meat is rich in iron but meat broth is not). Given the information above, however, it is reasonable to argue that meat is a core food in the diet for children and adolescents because it provides significant amounts of essential micronutrients.

Adult depression — and some physical ailments — linked to L-carnitine deficiency

We in the West seem to be undergoing a depression epidemic.

I know many people offine who are taking anti-depressants. We had fewer of these issues 40 years ago.

A Stanford Medicine study published on July 30, 2018 links depression to a lack of L-carnitine, an amino acid that the body produces naturally. Natalie Rasgon’s study showed that patients responded positively within days to acetyl-L-carnitine supplements to ease their depression. By contrast, anti-depressants can take a few weeks to be effective.

She says that, although L-carnitine supplements are available at health food shops, more research needs to be done to find out exactly what L-cartinine supplements will help.

WebMD explains that low L-carnitine levels can be genetic or related to medicines. Ultimately:

The body can convert L-carnitine to other amino acids called acetyl-L-carnitine and propionyl-L-carnitine. But, no one knows whether the benefits of carnitines are interchangeable. Until more is known, don’t substitute one form of carnitine for another.

WebMD also lists physical ailments that can arise from low L-cartinine levels:

L-carnitine is used for conditions of the heart and blood vessels including heart-related chest pain, congestive heart failure (CHF), heart complications of a disease called diphtheria, heart attack, leg pain caused by circulation problems (intermittent claudication), and high cholesterol.

Some people use L-carnitine for muscle disorders associated with certain AIDS medications, difficulty fathering a child (male infertility), a brain development disorder called Rett syndrome, anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, overactive thyroid, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), leg ulcers, Lyme disease, and to improve athletic performance and endurance.

However, eating meat might be the simplest way to help increase natural L-cartinine levels.

According to a 2004 abstract from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, ‘Species and muscle differences in L-carnitine levels in skeletal muscles based on a new simple assay’, red meat — especially deer, horse and goat — has the highest levels of this essential amino acid:

We have adapted the enzymatic method [Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 176 (3) (1991) 1617] for the safe and rapid assay of L-carnitine (L-CA) in skeletal muscle using a microplate reader. The concentration of L-CA in fresh semitendinosus muscle from broiler chicken, pig, beef cattle, deer, horse and goat muscle were 0.69, 1.09, 1.86-3.57, 4.57, 4.95 and 11.36 μmol/g wet weight, respectively. The animals which had higher concentration of L-CA, also had the highest amounts of myoglobin as an index to the redness of the muscle. Furthermore, we investigated this relationship between white muscle, M. pectoralis profundus, and red muscle, M. soleus, in laying hens. The L-CA and myoglobin concentration in red muscle were significantly higher than those in white muscle (p<0.01). These findings suggest that L-CA concentration in muscle is related to oxygen metabolism and to myofiber types.

Conclusion

It’s time to stop obsessing over eating meat, especially red meat, which has been a no-no for decades.

Red meat helps to ensure good health — at any stage of life.

Enjoy it.

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