Why Do Zombies Eat Brains?

This is probably the hardest question to answer. An internet search reveals that no one knows what the hell they’re talking about. The most common answer is “Omg I don’t think zombies are even real.” Um, thanks.

The real controversy is whether zombies eat brains, or human flesh. I don’t know why these have to be mutually exclusive. I’m going to just go ahead and decide that zombies eat humans, period. They want to eat you, it doesn’t matter to them whether it’s your arm or your brain or your liver. (In fact, if we were purely using fictional zombies as examples, movie zombies ate flesh exclusively until the brain tangent was introduced in 1985’s “Return of the Living Dead” as a comedic concept.) I think the reason we associate them more strongly with brain consumption is that we’re much more terrified of losing our brains than any other body part. You eat my brain, I’m dead.

That being said, for the sake of a good argument, let’s go ahead and pretend that zombies only eat brains. The most convincing theories range from metaphorical (they crave the mind/consciousness/soul that they have lost) to scientific (it’s been recently discovered that glial cells in the brain can replicate cells and perhaps give them back some of the brain mass that they lose in decomposition) to metabolic (brains have fat or cholesterol that sustain them). Brooks, my most trustworthy zombie source, is pretty insistent about the fact that zombies don’t eat for nourishment, but rather that it’s some sort of instinct (I would compare it to a human’s need for sleeping; they won’t die immediately without it but it does serve some sort of basic survival purpose). My favorite theory is that they eat brains to prevent competition or to keep the zombie population from increasing to unsustainable levels, so that the only ones that survive are the people who are bitten and then escape.

The complete opposite theory, in the original “Dawn of the Dead”, is that zombies purposefully only consume about 40% of human bodies, so that enough is left to be fully mobile after reanimation. I disagree with this because I don’t think zombies are capable of a group mentality or organizing together. It seems more likely that they would prefer to be alone. It’s not like they care if their race survives.

Answer: they eat both, it’s an instinct, and brains have no nutritional value. Now everyone can stop wondering.

38 Responses to Why Do Zombies Eat Brains?

  1. Molly says:

    My biggest problem with the zombies-eating-brains scenario is that human skulls are tough little coconuts. We’ve evolved a skeleton that protects the brain quite effectively. Since zombies lack the coordination and problem solving skills to utilize tools, how would they penetrate the skull? You can’t gnaw through it.

    • Downboy says:

      Well , when you are zombiefied , your physicaly stronger. A zombie is about 4 times stronger than a regular human. And plus they’re freakin zombies that want brains , so they will find a way to open someones brain.

      peace out

      • aimanden says:

        How are they phyiscally stronger when they have lesser brain and stuff…

        • Reynolds says:

          They’re not stronger, they aren’t faster, and they’re nothing that you see in fictional stuff like books or movies, they’re only as strong as they were in their human life, if you lacked muscle and turned into a zombie, you’d still have what muscle you had.

        • Anonymus says:

          It’s hard to carry something heavy in a normal state, just because you think so. But when you get angry, you’re more focused on the thing you’re mad about. That’s why you’ll be likely to thrash stuff (which is also why we can’t have nice things) without noticing.
          The same theory works for zombies as they don’t think much.

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  3. A. Morisson says:

    My theory is that zombies don’t eat brains – not because they don’t want to – but because their jaws aren’t strong enough to bite through human skulls. They’re not any stronger than they were when they were alive, and possible weaker. Imagine trying to bite through someone else’s skull. Wouldn’t work.

    But that’s not to say they don’t want to eat brains. They want to eat every part of a living person – as long as that person is still alive.

    • donteatmybrain says:

      I totally agree that they’ll eat whatever they can get to. I’ve addressed this before – in the post “How do zombies get to the brains?” – and I think you’re right that the brain is more difficult to get to, but the MD I asked said it would be relatively easy to claw through the eye sockets and/or throat. But yup, your brain’s probably slightly safer than the rest of your organs.

    • Neko says:

      actually your half right about the human skull being gnaw proof. the skull can be pentrated if enough force is applied thru the bite. When I was in a car wreck I was in the back seat behind the driver. his car slid into a tree and thru me forward next thing I knew it was nom nom nom right on the back of his head, he had to go to the hospital where the docter was weirded out by the two front teeth marks going into his skull.

  4. Silia says:

    i wonder if zombies will eat other zombies

    • Lacy says:

      No, it’s kinda like humans and fruit. we like the fresh, ripe, and juicy flesh of the fruit as they like the fresh, ripe, juicy flesh of living humans. Would you like to eat the soggy and rotten flesh of a decade apple? Well they don’t want to eat the rotten flesh of other zombies.

  5. Jey says:

    In regards to zombies eating other zombies, i dont think so.. its never been depicted in any movies involving zombies (that im aware of)

    group coordination: in Stephen King’s “Cell” the people turned zombies (by usage of cell phones) evolve to a state that they can perform telepathic and telekinetic actions. Although it seems against zombie stereotypes, who is to say they cant do that? which probably answers the issue above ^^^

    i think the introduction of zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968) by George A. Romero was saying that they simply wanted food. In the movie, a reporter says the infected are dead like, and the recently deceased are coming back to life with no signs of consciousness, just consuming the flesh of the living (something like that). To scare us more, the concept of the living dead was made scarier by the rotting and decomposition that accompanies death. So zombies that we know (resident evil, dawn of the dead) are not exactly the ones originally thought up of by George Romero. So if we look back to zombies in NOTLD, zombies are hungry, human-like, and eat flesh. In later versions of zombies, we see the concept of brains being brought in as well as a scare factor as well as rotting and decomposing. The justification for eating brains is simply an opinion and cannot be based on any facts. DAMN that was long :D

  6. zombie_lover says:

    zombies aren’t smart, so it seems any animated body (ie: another zombie) would seem delicious to them. but i think it’s instictive in us to not eat the dead, thus they decline. my question is this: do they have vital signs and a metabolism? does eating help? what is the life expectancy of one sans bullet to the head? soooooooo many questions, so few volunteer zombies to research. selfish bastards.

  7. Thomas Lacey says:

    I have always been interested in zombies. Always have been and always will be. My parents have noticed my, shall we say, “Obsession”, and said I should go into the movie making business and produce zombie films, or at least write a book. I’m starting the book, but I, even in all my wisdom of zombies, cannot remember what the chemical in the brain is that the zombies remain after. At least this is how I will porttray it. The electricity in the brain, I cannot remember what it is. Is it electrodes or electrolytes? I don’t remember, those may not even be it. Anyway, if someone can tell me, it would be much appriciated, thanks!

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  9. Jeanette says:

    I am on a desperate search for the name of a zombie movie I saw years ago and have not seen since (possibly late eighties early nineties). There are two main things I can remember. First, the zombies throughout the entire movie walked around and said “brains.” Secondly, at one point, a guy who just turned into a zombie chased his girlfriend into I think if I remember correctly, a church, and described to her how he could smell her brains and that he just wanted a bite (something like this). She proceeded to let him bite her head which you don’t actually see but only hear the crunch noise. Anyway, it would be awesome if anyone knew what I am talking about and provided the name of the movie

  10. Dean says:

    I think it all stems from the common misconception that the brain is the most nutritious organ in the human body. I remember seeing in some show that in a survey, most people said that they’d eat a human brain if they were stranded without food, but in fact, the liver was safer and more nutritious. This also goes to the, “zombies eating brains are way scarier than zombies eating livers” theory.

  11. Zoghrob says:

    Well, speaking professionally, I’m a surgeon, & I’d like to clear out few point here.
    Regarding glial cells, they are the counterpart of fiber producing cells. Nervous tissue got no fibrous tissue in it, instead it got glial tissue, more or less like fibrous tissue but with some differences. Glial cell is totally different from stem cell, glial cell produce glial tissue (fibrous tissue like) while stem cell can produce any other cell, i.e. regenerate dead or damaged tissues.
    Point is nervous tissue got no stem cells at all in it, hence no regeneration occurs after injury of nerves. 2nd point is that if you eat stem cells rich tissue, all will be digested & you benefit none but energy. OK, some may say zombies don’t digest food (may be..), but that will take us back to the point that brain got no stem cells…

    However, there is a fact that I want to add. Brain tissue got substances called “Endorphins” & “Eencephalins” which are morphine like substances, & are produced by the brain in cases of severe pain to ease it out, so when the mouse is between the teeth of the cat, suddenly it falls into a coma like state, due to these substances. This was mentioned briefly in 1985’s “return of living dead” when they tied up the half woman corpse & asked her why do they eat brains, she answered “it makes the pain go away”. Nice fact.

    • Maya says:

      I love this! Totally going to do a follow up post with this theory.

    • Devon says:

      So that means brain eating zombies are people who were brought back from the dead are in pain, most likely because of decomposition or the other hundreds of things that happen to a body after death (autopsy, meat shield, etc…) and all they’re trying to do is use the only thing they know that will help stop what is most likely lethal amounts of pain. Now I feel sorry for the zombies. Not enough to stop killing them but enough to think of them in a new light.

  12. Michele Hays says:

    So glad somebody put this out there; I was really curious where the brain mythology started.

    An interesting tidbit of information – wolves in B.C. and alaska catch salmon, eat their brains, and leave the rest of the fish for scavengers: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/9R8JipdRvqDf1L4JO021MA I wonder if this was where the idea came from.

    More interestingly: why is it zombies always seem to retain their teeth and vocal cords? Of course, it’s for dramatic effect – but you would think that someone would have come up with some “science” to add to the mythology.

    • Maya says:

      That is a REALLY good question. I could definitely see this being explained as part of the effects of the zombie virus – maybe your teeth and throat are kept intact like certain parts of your brain while the rest of your body rots, since you need them to keep chomping on people. It is really weird that I’ve never seen a zombie in a movie without any teeth. (Actually, I’ve always wondered what it would be like for an old person without any teeth left to become a zombie!)

  13. Cellcat Reigns says:

    Wow people. Seriously? The simple, logical explanation is:
    Zombies have to eat live human flesh because the blood and flesh is still warm; still alive. A zombie may be “undead” but it’s flesh is a rotting cold body.
    I will add, I do like Zoghrob’s point about making the pain go away. A consciousness that is aware of being in a rotting cold body surely is in pain. :o(
    But, just like anyone else, you really cannot blame a zombie for wanting to be happy and have a healthy body. LoL!

  14. Jason says:

    This is an epic conversation. I love this website.

    I’d go with Cellcat, though I also like Zoghrob’s explanation of the pain numbing effects.

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  16. Jim says:

    Eating brains helps stop the the pain for a few hours-zombies can feel themselves rotting.

  17. Sid Shanks says:

    A zombie named Guy has actually discovered the reason for the need to ingest brains, which led to the negation of the zombies need to kill, go insane or otherwise lose their minds. Thanks to this discovery, zombies can now co-exist with the uninfected, prosper and thrive in peace. The solution is to be withheld until various monetizing efforts have been fully explored, and reaped.

  18. Mary says:

    My theory is that they’ve devolved to animal intellect, probably lower. Animals will go for the guts first. They do this because they’re easier to eat. So I’m saying that zombies would go for your guts, then your flesh, then they could dig the brains out through the bottom of the skull. If you think about it the human skull makes a nice little bowl if it’s flipped. Also, I think they eat for energy. Simply put nothing can move without energy. Much like humans they have to burn something for fuel.

  19. Toni says:

    Hey, I didn’t bother to read all the comments: so, I apologize if this has already been stated. I just wanted to state my personal theory that zombies eat brains because they do not have them (theoretically) and may give them the energy they need to keep going, (being that the human brain is the center of all human activity.) ~ Just a thought?

  20. Abed says:

    Ok , I wanna know how does the zombie hold for years without any food ?

  21. Moose says:

    The whole concept of zombies eating brains is, I believe, scarier. That may be why many of the people who make zombie movies have them eat brains. For me, personally, I would be ok with surgery anywhere EXCEPT my brain because, if they mess up, there will be something wrong w/ you the rest of your life. The brain is the control center of the body which means, as you said, (not word for word) if a zombie were to eat someone’s brain, they are done for, where as, a chunk of skin is much less vital to survive. Other then that, it may just be instinctive for the zombies to go for the brain considering it’s the control system of the person’s entire body. I feel the answer would be easier to find if zombies could actually THINK. Other wise, why would they choose the brain? I have been mind-blown by your question…

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  24. Thaddian says:

    Look at these stupid stereotypes: Zombies are green, Zombies murmur “Brains…”, Zombies GO for the brains. Those aren’t true and are impossible. Zombies aren’t green, zombies can’t talk, zombies hunt for flesh, and zombies have rotted skin/flesh.

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