Why are Vegetarians more prone to Depression?

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In this blog, we will answer the question, “Why are Vegetarians more prone to Depression?” and also cover topics like vegetarian vs non-vegetarian diet, what research says about vegetarianism and depression, the link between vegetarianism and depression, does vegetarianism cause depression, and some frequently asked questions about the topic

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Why are Vegetarians more prone to Depression?

Vegetarians are more prone to depression as a vegetarian diet can lead to nutritional and vitamin-related deficiencies which can create an imbalance in human physiology and lead to depression.

We will explore the relationship between vegetarianism and depression in the further sections. 

Food and Depression

What we eat and what we think are interrelated. There is a complex relationship between our food and our mental health. On the one hand, it appears that some diets increase the likelihood of getting a mental illness. On the other side, having a mental illness may cause you to consume more or less, or to eat various types of meals.

When you first heard of the term ‘ Vegetarian Depression’, it must be very confusing. Over the years there has been a lot of research and studies that have been conducted to understand various causes of depression ranging from genetic to environmental factors, so can being a vegetarian be one of them?

As bizarre as this idea seems, studies suggest that people consuming a vegetarian/vegan diet are more likely to be depressed than those consuming an omnivorous diet. However, there are also studies that suggest the opposite and reject the concept of vegetarian depression.

If you’re facing this, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. You can find a therapist at BetterHelp who can help you learn how to cope and address it.

Let us look at this concept in more depth.

 

What is Vegetarianism?

Vegetarianism is a type of diet that avoids eating animals and animal products. Foods like meat, fish, egg, and other poultry foods are avoided. The perks of following this type of diet include lower blood pressure and reduced chances of heart diseases and cancer. 

However, a lack of meat and dairy in your diet can contribute to new or worsening psychological conditions. Vegans or vegetarians lack vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids in their bodies which are important for neurological functioning. As a result, vegans are more likely to experience depression.

 

Difference between a vegetarian and non-vegetarian diet 

A vegetarian diet is rich in:

●  Fibre

●  Folic acid

●  Iron

●  Magnesium

●  Vitamin C

●  Vitamin E

A non-vegetarian diet is rich in:

●  Omega-3 fatty acids

●  Saturated fats

●  Zinc

●  Calcium

●  Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 helps in the synthesis of serotonin, which helps in releasing chemicals that can elevate your mood. It also helps to treat symptoms of depression. Meat and eggs are great sources of vitamin B-12. The deficiency of vitamin B-12 in the vegetarian diet makes vegetarians more prone to depression.

What does the research say about vegetarianism and depression?

Research that supports the link between vegetarianism and depression

●  In 2007, Baines conducted a longitudinal study that included 14,247 young women. It was found that in the previous 12 months, 30 percent of vegetarians and semi-vegetarian women had experienced depression as compared to 20 percent of non-vegetarian women.

●  A study conducted in Germany involved a sample of 4,116 people. They were divided into categories of vegetarians, predominantly vegetarians, and non-vegetarians. It was found that more vegetarians than non-vegetarians suffered from depression in the previous week, month, and year.

●  In a British study, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was completed by 9,668 males who were partners of pregnant women. In comparison to 4% of non-vegetarians, 7% of vegetarians received ratings that indicated serious depression.

●  A German research team conducted a new meta-analysis on vegetarian diet and depression. Data was taken from 49,889 participants (8,057 vegetarians and 41,832 non-vegetarians).

Individual depression questionnaire ratings from 13 distinct empirical research comparing vegetarians and non-vegetarians were included in the meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is a type of statistical study that combines the findings of several separate scientific studies into one report. 

It has the benefit of a larger sample size, which increases statistical power and reduces the likelihood of the analysis being influenced by the features of individual studies. Vegetarians were found to be more depressed than meat-eaters.

●      The impact of giving up various food groups on depressive symptoms among meat-eaters, vegans, true vegetarians, and vegetarians who ate fish was investigated in a 2018 study of 90,000 adults by French researchers. 

With each food group eliminated, the incidence of depression increased. People who had given up at least three of the four animal-related dietary groups (red meat, poultry, fish, and dairy) were roughly twice as likely to be depressed.

●      In 2014, research was conducted in Austria that included a sample of 1320 individuals. 

Based on their diet, they were divided into 4 categories-330 vegetarians, 330 people who consumed a lot of meat, 330 omnivores who ate less meat, and 330 people who consumed a little meat but ate mostly fruits and veggies. 

The sex, age, and socioeconomic position of the participants were all properly matched. It was found that Vegetarians were nearly twice as likely as the other categories to experience mental illnesses including anxiety and depression.

●      Through an article published in the journal Neuropsychbiology, it was reported that Finnish vegetarians were four times more likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) than non-vegetarians.

●      A study of 140 women found that women who ate half the recommended amount of meat each week had double the risk of depression.  Women who ate more than the required quantity were also more likely to be depressed, according to the study.

●      A research was conducted on 172,000 participants across four continents out of which 158,000 people were non-vegetarians and 13,000 were vegetarians. Through questionnaires, participants self-reported whether or not they ate meat. They then answered questions relating to their experience with anxiety and depression. 

The results of the study showed that the absence of meat from the diet leads to poorer mental health. This result was true regardless of the person’s gender. The researchers were unable to determine whether other characteristics, such as a person’s age, the sorts of meat they eat, their socioeconomic level, their history of mental illness, or how long they had abstained from meat, influenced the association.

Research that offers contrary results and does not support the link between vegetarianism and depression

●The mental health of 486 vegans, vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and non-vegetarians was studied in a 2012 study published in the journal Appetite. There were no significant variations in depression scores across the groups, according to these researchers.

●According to Benedictine University researchers, there were no variations in depression levels between vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores among 620 respondents recruited via diet-related social networks. However, meat-eaters had higher anxiety and stress levels than vegetarians and vegans.

●In a study conducted in 2010 in Arizona, it was found that Seventh-day Adventists who were non-vegetarians had higher depression, stress, and anxiety levels than vegetarians.

Is it right to make a direct link between vegetarianism and depression?

The concept of “link-think” often proves to be problematic. For example, let us consider a link between animal cruelty and human-directed violence. This relationship is very weak. 

The majority of children who harm animals grow up to be normal adults, while the majority of serial killers and school shooters have no prior history of animal abuse.  Similarly, vegetarians make up a small percentage of those who suffer from depression, while the majority of vegetarians are not depressed. 

The prevalence of many studies involving thousands of subjects conducted by scientists from various nations, however, demonstrates that the link between vegetarianism and depression is not a random coincidence.

Does vegetarianism cause depression?

There is no direct evidence that proves that being a vegetarian leads to poorer mental health. As seen above both kinds of research- one supporting the claim and one being against it exist. 

An important question that arises is Do people get a higher risk of depression once they stop eating meat? Or are there more people who choose to become vegan or vegetarian because they are already depressed?

Research works exploring the answer to this question still remain limited. However, 2012 research suggested that depression can cause a person to switch to vegetarianism. 

To address their existing mental health issues and be more sensitive towards animals can shift to a vegetarian diet. It’s also plausible that people who are unhappy or worried about climate change are more likely to eat in ways that reduce carbon emissions. 

The livestock business accounts for roughly 15% of global emissions each year.

There are also studies that show that vegetarianism precedes depression. There is a possibility that a vegetarian diet can produce biological changes in the brain that can lead to depression. 

This was also proved by a German study which found that 34 percent of the people who suffered from depression started on a vegetarian diet before the onset of their mental disorders. Nine percent of these people also had anxiety disorders.

Some personality factors may predispose individuals to depression as well as vegetarianism. Women, for example, are twice as prone as males to experience depression, and female vegetarians outnumber male vegetarians. Being a vegetarian can also increase isolation. 

You might get fewer dinner invites if your friends prefer to eat non-veg. You may avoid going out with people who are non-vegetarians. This will limit your social interaction. Being a vegetarian, you are also more sensitive to the topic of animal cruelty. This could be more depressive than living in a state of ignorance.

Conclusion

The vegetarian diet is a rich source of magnesium, iron, fiber, and folic acid. However, it lacks nutrients like saturated fats, vitamin D, fatty acids, and vitamin B-12. Since vegetarians’ intake of plant-based food is higher than average, they are also most likely to consume a higher amount of pesticides.

Reverse causation can’t be ignored. People who are depressed are also likely to shift to vegetarianism. They want to make a change through their diet and vegetarian food is considered to be more healthy. However, we need to keep in my mind that correlation doesn’t establish causation. There could be something else causing people to be both depressed and vegetarian.

The debate still continues.

Frequently Asked Questions ( FAQs): Why are Vegetarians more prone to Depression?

Why are vegetarians more prone to depression?

Vegetarians are more prone to depression because eating a vegetarian diet can cause nutrient deficiency and vitamin deficiency. This can make our body more prone to depression as nutrient deficiency is a major cause of depression.

Do vegetarians’ brains shrink?

Scientists at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, University of Oxford, found that going vegetarian can be bad for your brain. Those consuming a vegetarian diet are six times more likely to experience brain shrinkage than meat-eaters.

What are the negative effects of being a vegetarian?

The negative effects of being a vegetarian are weight gain, high blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and other health issues.

Can vegetarians live longer?

In research conducted at Loma Linda University in the United States, it was found that Vegetarian males live 10 years longer (83 years) than non-vegetarian men (73 years). Being a vegetarian gives a woman an extra 6 years of life, allowing them to live to be 85 years old on average.

Was Einstein a vegetarian?

In his adulthood, Einstein was a non-vegetarian and loved eating meat. He became a strict vegetarian-only during the last years of his life, decades after his finest scientific breakthroughs.

Are meat eaters happier than vegetarians?

It has been seen that there is a 7% higher rating in vegans than meat-eaters as meat-eaters fall on a scale of 6.90%. The study also put forth an intriguing point that the notion that plants are making people happy is not true because happier people are more likely to turn to plant-based diets. 

References

Why are Vegetarians more likely to be depressed? https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-asymmetric-brain/202108/why-are-vegetarians-more-likely-be-depressed

Vegetarianism may be linked to depression, a study suggests. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2017/08/25/vegetarianism-may-be-linked-to-depression-study-suggests/?sh=29d2629471e8

The Baffling connection between vegetarianism and depression https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animals-and-us/201812/the-baffling-connection-between-vegetarianism-and-depression

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