Can Vegetarianism Decrease Depression and Anxiety? - VeggieBoards

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#1 Old 10-13-2015, 04:07 AM
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Can Vegetarianism Decrease Depression and Anxiety?



What you eat impacts your mood and a study published in the October 2015 issue of the journal “Nutritional Neuroscience” found that there was a very strong correlation between vegetarian and vegan diets and an overall happier mood with less stress, anxiety and depression.

The findings, which are not conclusive, are the opposite of previous findings, which found greater feelings of stress, anxiety and depression in herbivores.

Study Methodology

The new study pulled participants from diet-related social networks on the Internet. Participants willingly agreed to answer questions relating to their diet and their mood. The study polled adult vegetarians, vegans and omnivores of all genders, across a wide geographic area.

Study participants were given a Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21) test, which asks questions relating to the participant’s mood over the week prior to taking the survey.

Participants have the option of answering “Did not apply to me at all,” applied to me some of the time,” “applied to me a good part of the time” or “applied to me most of the time” to questions.

Questions on the DASS-21 ask about both physical symptoms, such as trembling or getting to sleep easily and psychological symptoms, such as feelings of unworthiness or agitation. Lower scores indicate less depression, anxiety and stress.

Study Findings

Based on participants’ DASS-21 scores, both vegans and vegetarians reported less depression than omnivores. Average anxiety scores were lower in male participants only, particularly those who reported a higher fruit and vegetable intake. Lower stress scores were found in female participants only, relating to a plant-based diet and a reduction of sugar-based sweets.

A Need for More Research

While this study indicates that there doesn’t seem to be any negative impact from a plant-based diet and that it could even possibly improve mood, the results are inconsistent with previous studies on the subject, which found higher stress and anxiety levels among vegetarians and vegans.

The difference could be due to a number of factors, including sample selection, selection-bias, sample size, methodological differences or the fact that all of the studies on the subject thus far have required participants to self-rank and self-report their state of mind.

While the study in “Nutritional Neuroscience” took age and gender into account when analyzing the findings of the research, they did not factor in socioeconomic status, race, education or any of the other factors that could have influenced the results one way or the other. Easy access to food from both an economic standpoint and geographic standpoint, for example, could easily lead to lower stress levels.

Because this study flies in the face of previous findings within the scientific community, more research is necessary to draw a conclusion as to whether vegetarians or vegans truly are happier than their omnivorous counterparts. As the study authors themselves said, there doesn’t appear to be any inherent harm in a plant-based diet.

A Biological Basis for Benefits?

It’s unclear why a vegetarian or vegan diet might be psychologically beneficial to some, but determining why the results of various studies are so vastly different takes time and more research.

However, there may be a biological basis for the benefits of a vegan diet: the 2014 issue of the scientific journal “Nutrients” ran a study on the gut microflora of vegans compared to vegetarians and omnivores. The study found that the gut profile — the bacteria, pathogens and other microorganisms found in the stomach — were vastly different between vegans and omnivores, with only a slight difference between vegetarians and vegans.

Vegans were found to have fewer pathogenic microorganisms — the kind of microorganisms that cause inflammation and disease — in their stomachs. Vegans also had a higher abundance of protective gut microflora, the type of microorganisms that promote health and prevent disease and inflammation.

The research is a promising start to understanding how vegetarians and vegans differ from their omnivorous counterparts and why a vegetarian and vegan diet might be beneficial. The results are unclear on whether starting a therapeutic vegetarian or vegan diet would help those suffering from stomach issues.

Speculations on Mental Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet

The study in “Nutrients” looks promising when we consider it from a mental health standpoint: a large majority of the body’s serotonin, the “feel good chemical” that regulates moods and happiness, is produced in our stomachs. A healthier stomach environment might very well be more hospitable to proper serotonin synthesis and storage, but again, more research is needed.

There could also be other mental health benefits to vegan and vegetarian diets that aren’t biologically-based. For example, if a person adopts a vegetarian or vegan diet for ethical reasons, they naturally might feel happier knowing that they’re not contributing to the demand for factory-farmed animals that may face horrible lives and even more horrible deaths.

At this point, any speculation on why a vegan or vegetarian diet is beneficial to mood is just that: speculation. As time goes on and more research is conducted, we may have solid answers on the how’s and why’s of the beneficial nature of vegetarian and vegan diets. Until then, keep eating your veggies: it can’t hurt.

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#2 Old 10-16-2015, 09:22 AM
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i think this needs way more research. it's a nice thought, but i doubt it's correct. many vegans i know suffer from both anxiety and depression. i think that's a major issue with empaths.

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#3 Old 10-16-2015, 10:18 AM
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i think this needs way more research. it's a nice thought, but i doubt it's correct. many vegans i know suffer from both anxiety and depression. i think that's a major issue with empaths.

Your evidence is anecdotal, not based on rigorous research.
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_________

“Under the twinkling trees was a table covered with Guatemalan fabric, roses in juice jars, wax rose candles from Tijuana and plates of food — Weetzie's Vegetable Love-Rice, My Secret Agent Lover Man's guacamole, Dirk's homemade pizza, Duck's fig and berry salad and Surfer Surprise Protein Punch, Brandy-Lynn's pink macaroni, Coyote's cornmeal cakes, Ping's mushu plum crepes and Valentine's Jamaican plantain pie."

from Witch Baby, Francesca Lia Block, 1991
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#4 Old 10-16-2015, 11:24 AM
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Your evidence is anecdotal, not based on rigorous research.
Much of what we cite on here is based on our personal experience, not on "rigorous research." That's the nature of discussion boards.

Based on the article itself, it doesn't appear to be based on rigorous research either. For example, the participants appear to have been self selected. Further, it's unclear what kind of "diet" sites they came from. If they came from sites focused on health and healthy eating, the results aren't surprising. (All other things being equal, someone who eats a healthy diet and gets an appropriate amount of sleep and exercise will be in a healthier mental/emotional state than someone who does not.) Seventh Day Adventists, for example, appear (based on rigorous research) to be an above average healthy population, in terms of both physical and mental health. However, their emphasis on veg*nism is based on their religion's emphasis on health, not on compassion for animals.

If the study participants came from veg*n sites, then I do find the results surprising, since, based on my experiences on veg*n discussion boards, I would say that depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health issues are more strongly represented among veg*ns (at least among veg*ns active on veg*n boards) than they are among the population as a whole. IOW, I agree with unovegan that empathy is a quality that can make one vulnerable to depression, anxiety, etc.
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#5 Old 10-16-2015, 12:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Beautiful Joe View Post
Much of what we cite on here is based on our personal experience, not on "rigorous research." That's the nature of discussion boards.

Based on the article itself, it doesn't appear to be based on rigorous research either. For example, the participants appear to have been self selected. Further, it's unclear what kind of "diet" sites they came from. If they came from sites focused on health and healthy eating, the results aren't surprising. (All other things being equal, someone who eats a healthy diet and gets an appropriate amount of sleep and exercise will be in a healthier mental/emotional state than someone who does not.) Seventh Day Adventists, for example, appear (based on rigorous research) to be an above average healthy population, in terms of both physical and mental health. However, their emphasis on veg*nism is based on their religion's emphasis on health, not on compassion for animals.

If the study participants came from veg*n sites, then I do find the results surprising, since, based on my experiences on veg*n discussion boards, I would say that depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health issues are more strongly represented among veg*ns (at least among veg*ns active on veg*n boards) than they are among the population as a whole. IOW, I agree with unovegan that empathy is a quality that can make one vulnerable to depression, anxiety, etc.
good points.

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#6 Old 10-23-2015, 09:59 AM
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If only fixing anxiety and depression were that simple. As a person with mental illness I can tell you veganism did not fix my issues.
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#7 Old 10-23-2015, 12:13 PM
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It's not that I agree with the OP's cited study, which concludes that vegetarians are less depressed. I'm just advising that, as always, we make broad conclusions based on the weight of peer-reviewed studies, not on individual experience, anecdotes, or claims made on forums.

At least one peer-reviewed study has, in fact, concluded that vegetarianism is associated with an increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders. However, this study doesn't conclude that vegetarianism causes these disorders. Rather, this study concludes that people who already suffer from these disorders are more likely to choose a vegetarian diet.

Quoting from this study:

"Vegetarians displayed elevated prevalence rates for depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and somatoform disorders. Due to the matching procedure, the findings cannot be explained by socio-demographic characteristics of vegetarians (e.g. higher rates of females, predominant residency in urban areas, high proportion of singles). The analysis of the respective ages at adoption of a vegetarian diet and onset of a mental disorder showed that the adoption of the vegetarian diet tends to follow the onset of mental disorders." {underlining mine}

Link to this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3466124

_________

“Under the twinkling trees was a table covered with Guatemalan fabric, roses in juice jars, wax rose candles from Tijuana and plates of food — Weetzie's Vegetable Love-Rice, My Secret Agent Lover Man's guacamole, Dirk's homemade pizza, Duck's fig and berry salad and Surfer Surprise Protein Punch, Brandy-Lynn's pink macaroni, Coyote's cornmeal cakes, Ping's mushu plum crepes and Valentine's Jamaican plantain pie."

from Witch Baby, Francesca Lia Block, 1991

Last edited by David3; 10-23-2015 at 12:16 PM.
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#8 Old 11-17-2015, 03:52 PM
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Not in my case. It is difficult to have to explain myself and justify my choise to others. Many omnivores take great offence when they learn of my diet. This is very socially limiting. Also from the other side are the vegetarians/vegans who tell me that I have not gone far enough. For example "that avocado that you bought funds the cartels in mexico" or "you have not particpated in any animal shelters".
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#9 Old 11-18-2015, 12:38 AM
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Perhaps people who are living an authentic life in accordance with their deeply held beliefs and values are less depressed. If you are passionate about animals then eating them will be creating a lot of internal conflict. That in turn can lead to depression. I would say that I turned to vegetarianism while I was depressed and became less depressed while a vegetarian - but my recovery was due to medication and therapy.

Depression is a highly individual illness and can have myriad root causes. As a result medication, therapy & lifestyle all make some impact but you often end up having to deploy a combination of all these to see any improvement.
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#10 Old 11-18-2015, 03:29 PM
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I personally think that it's dangerous to push any diet as a means to treat a disorder that is not directly related to food consumption (like high cholesterol). I understand that there are some issues that cause people not to trust everything the medical community says, but it's still dangerous to expect lifestyle changes to cure everything without medical attention.

Cutting meat out of my diet has helped me with health issues - but in terms of things like weight and food sensitivities where there are clear and logical connections.

And like others have said, I know from personal experience that vegans and vegetarians are not exempt from mental health issues.
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#11 Old 01-03-2016, 12:47 PM
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This study left out all sorts of scenarios (in order of least to most ridiculous):

Perhaps people with MH issues are more sensitive and empathetic and this leads to becoming a veg*an.

Perhaps people who are veg*an are more concerned about their health, more likely to see a doctor, and are more likely to be diagnosed with a MH problem.

Perhaps Veg*ism DOES cause MH issues, but the veg*ns in this study are just so fixated on preserving the image of veg*ism that they lie about it to make it seem like they have no MH issues, thus biasing the study

Perhaps introverts are more likely to become veg*an because they are "in their head more", and perhaps introversion makes people more susceptible to MH issues?

Perhaps veg*ns are less likely to live in the country, which can either cause or alleviate depression, depending on the person.

Perhaps veg*ns are more likely to be atheists, and atheists are less likely to have an MH issue?

Perhaps veg*ns are more likely to be hippies, which means they are more likely to burn patchouli and it's really the "aromatherapeutic properties and positive energy" of patchouli, not the veg diet, that causes people to have fewer MH problems.

Perhaps veg*ns take more time to cook their food, which causes them not to go outside as much, which causes them to not inhale the illuminati/space-alien chemtrail fumes, which cause anxiety in an elaborate conspiring plot to instate a reptilian emperor.

For a scientific study to be taken seriously, it has to leave out ALL other factors except the one that that's being tested. Now of course, factoring out the illuminati is not at the top of the priority list of most researchers, so this rule needs to be taken within reason. Doing this is medicine is unreasonably hard, which causes a lot of contradicting studies, which is why you see "Blueberries are healthy" on one tabloid and "Blueberries will cause cancer" on another.
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#12 Old 12-06-2016, 10:36 AM
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All I know is a vegan diet has done nothing to help my anxiety or depression.
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#13 Old 01-14-2017, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by unovegan2 View Post
i think this needs way more research. it's a nice thought, but i doubt it's correct. many vegans i know suffer from both anxiety and depression. i think that's a major issue with empaths.
Maybe vegans are just wired to be more sensitive in the first place (which is why we make the change) and then once they've done that, the continued awareness of the horrors that 'our friends' are living and dying with, is too much to take. The result is ongoing anxiety and depression. I know that while I would never go back, my mood levels are at about a 3 (out of 10) pretty much all the time.
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