Vegans at greater risk of depression

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It has been said that people who avoid meat consumption tend to have worse psychological health than those who eat meat, according to new research published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, found that vegetarians/vegans were at a greater risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm.

Study author Urska Dobersek, an assistant professor at the University of Southern Indiana, explained that “Dietary choices have been a powerful indicator of social class and subsequent mate selection (e.g., whom we marry) since antiquity. Consequently, ‘what we eat’ and ‘how we eat’ are integral parts of our identity and directly influence our health via physiological, social, and psychological pathways. Therefore, given the dramatic surge in veganism and mental illness over the past two decades, a rigorous systematic review was a necessary first step in examining the relations between meat and mental health.”

For this study to be carried out, those involved had to go through 18 previous studies on the relationship between meat consumption and psychological health (which was narrowed down to depression, anxiety, deliberate self-harm, stress perception, and quality of life).
The study featured 149,559 meat-consumers and 8,584 meat-abstainers from Europe, Asia, North America, and Oceania.

They found out that “clear evidence” showed that those who abstained from consuming meat were prone to have higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm compared to those who did not. But they are still unsure of how meat consumption was related to stress perception and quality of life.

Furthermore, Dobersek told PsyPost. “My co-authors and I were truly surprised at how consistent the relation between meat-avoidance and the increased prevalence of mental illness was across populations. As we stated in our conclusion, ‘Our study does not support meat avoidance as a strategy to benefit psychological health’.”

The two studies that provided some evidence of causality had mixed results. A randomised controlled trial found that vegetarians reported significantly better mood than omnivores and fish eaters after the trial, but a longitudinal study found a vegetarian diet was predictive of depression and anxiety.

“There are two major questions that need to be addressed. First, why do most vegans and vegetarians return to eating meat? Is it a biological drive to overcome nutrient deficiencies or are the perceived benefits overwhelmed by the social stigma of non-Western dietary patterns? Or perhaps, is it that the novelty and attention lose their effect over time while the effort required to maintain a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle remains the same. Second, what is the temporal pattern of the relation? In other words, does the shift in diet occur before or after the psychological issues are manifest?”

The study, “Meat and mental health: a systematic review of meat abstention and depression, anxiety, and related phenomena“, was authored by Urska Dobersek, Gabrielle Wy, Joshua Adkins, Sydney Altmeyer, Kaitlin Krout, Carl J. Lavie, and Edward Archer.

Damoy Robertson
Damoy Robertson
Damoy Robertson is an entrepreneur and founder of The Vegan Review. Damoy is dedicated to spreading veganism to the masses which he believes will enable people to make better, more informed decisions concerning the way we all interact with animals and our planet.