Now I know those sound like fighting words if you’re a plant-based dieter, but depression and mental illness are too important to fight over.
They are so important that we need to see what the science says so we can help each other, not fight with each other.
So, does science have anything to say about diet’s connection to mental illness, in particular depression?
A team of researchers out of Germany studied the potential association between vegetarian diets and mental disorders. Their results, published in the ninth volume of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2012, might really surprise you.
Plant-based or meat-eater.
The researchers analyzed a representative sample of participant from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey and its Mental Health Supplement. They compared the vegetarian and mostly vegetarian participants with the non-vegetarian participants as well as with a non-vegetarian socio-demographically matched subsample in order to correct for any biases such as gender, place of residency, marital status, etc.
There were two VERY interesting findings.
The first interesting finding, that biased meat-eaters might suspect, is that the vegetarian groups showed higher rates for depression, anxiety, and somatoform disorders (a mental disorder that causes body symptoms, including physical pain).
The second interesting finding, however, is that participants who adopted a vegetarian diet tended to do so on average after the onset of a mental disorder, not before.
The more sarcastic meat-eaters may have expected that as well, but we don’t do that here and believe it is more suited for childish social media insults than it is for rational, real world analysis.
What do these findings mean?
The results of this study may raise more questions than provide answers, but it gives us important food for thought, which is a great and vital part of the journey to finding the answers for us as individuals.
First of all, if the participants became vegetarian after developing a mental disorder, the question is what prompted that decision?
Did some make the decision as an antidote to the mental disorder itself, in order to attempt to reverse it?
Did some do so for ethical/belief-based beliefs or a desire for perfection? Two mindsets that can be very positive, but also have the potential to be expressed in a way that is ultimately destructive?
And is it possible that some were predisposed throughout their lives to abstaining from meat and did that somehow result in a lack of important nutrients over time that eventually culminated in a mental disorder?
This third scenario may be supported by the fact that those who suffered from depressive, anxiety, or eating disorders reported a pattern of eating less meat not only in short-term periods, but also among those who consumed less meat over their lifetime as well.
Lastly, this study does not tell us the differences in cultural adoption of vegetarian diets. For example, if a culture does not value vegetarian diets, does that result in more negative mental outcomes than in a culture that does value vegetarian diets?
It is possible that consuming less meat has led or could lead to a variety of mental illnesses. In some cases, as described above, that could have been the case.
What we cannot say at this point, however, is that it is a definitive sentence.
Importantly, beyond cultural variations, this study admittedly does not tell us whether or not any specific nutrients were missing in the vegetarian diets of those who suffered from mental disorders.
Perhaps there is a nutrient, predominantly found in meat, that these vegetarians were deficient in but could be replicated in a vegetarian diet with more careful food planning.
The researchers do note that they found fish consumption was negatively associated with mental disorders, so perhaps that is a bread crumb to follow.
Although, as we know association does not equal causation, so we can’t go further than to say “perhaps”.
From here, all we can do is use research like this as a launching pad as we find and develop the most suitable lifestyle for ourselves individually.
No matter what, we can always do the best job we can to make sure we are getting as many nutrients into our diets as we can, as well as constantly working on our minds.
Seek professional help in both of these areas, of course.
As more research is done, we will get a clearer picture and more directed guidance. I’ll try to get that research to you here as best as I can.
Here’s to your mental health!
Enjoy what you found here today?
Thank you for your support!
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