Studies Meat Needed to Grow Human Brains

A remarkable thing happened some 800,000 years ago: some primates began eating meat and cooking food and that likely led to larger brains and modern-day humans.

Recent research has tended to suggest that meat played an important role in the development of Man and the size of the brain.

Two new studies confirm meat’s role in brain evolution

Now two new studies underscore that meat played a crucial role in setting what became Mankind on the path toward mastery of the planet and diverging from the other primates that continued to eat mostly fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Contemporary vegetarians and vegans not withstanding, the mass of homo-sapiens’ brains would not have developed without the concentrated proteins found in meat—especially red meat.

The studies, one from Rio de Janeiro and the other Madrid, approached the question of human brain mass and development from two different scientific disciplines: neurology and archaeology.

Meat and the development of neuron-rich brains

The first study, “Metabolic constraint imposes tradeoff between body size and number of brain neurons in human evolution,” published October 2012 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigated the role meat consumption played in development of neuron-rich brains and weighed that against body size.

“Researchers,” reports LiveScience, “led by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, calculated that adding neurons to the primate brain comes at a fixed cost of approximately six calories per billion neurons.”

Herculano-Houzel and her team found that the main difference between the developmental difference between humans and primates such as gorillas is the vegan diet that gorillas consume. Although the average gorilla has up to three times the body mass of a human, their brains are much smaller. Compared to the human brain, the neurons in a gorilla brain are fewer by a factor of three.

The study determined that gorillas can develop a human brain if the animal began adding a little more than 700 calories to its daily diet.

“The bottom line is, it is certainly possible to survive on an exclusively raw diet in our modern day, but it was most likely impossible to survive on an exclusively raw diet when our species appeared,” Herculano-Houzel explained to LiveScience.

No traditional society lived as vegans

Another study, published earlier in October, appears in the journal PLoS ONE. “Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania,” approaches the question of brain development from an archaeological perspective.  

The lead author of the study, Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, an archaeologist at Complutense University in Madrid, investigated the preserved remains of a young, pre-human child who lived about 1.5 million years ago. Forensic evidence confirmed the cause of death was malnutrition caused by a chronic lack of vitamins B9 and B12. Such a deficiency of key nutrients points to a lack of sufficient quantities of eggs or meat.

Referring to the study, Domínguez-Rodrigo told LiveScience, “Carnivore animals, whether terrestrial or aquatic, are bigger brained than herbivores. There is no [traditional] society that live as vegans.”

The Madrid study also concludes that eating meat is what made us human.

Perhaps going vegan, as many urge, is a mistake. A diet lacking in meat and eggs could eventually reverse evolution, downsize the human brain, and create a real “Planet of the Apes.”