Science Says Vegetarians Might Have A Higher Risk Of Suffering From Depression

Unsplash/Brooke Cagle

Whether you chose vegetarianism for your body, the well-being of animals or both, know that this dietary lifestyle could predispose you to a higher risk of depression, according to a new study.

The research from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and the National Institutes of Health included almost 10,000 male participants from the southwestern England area (who were also husbands of pregnant women taking part in a separate long-term study revolving around parent and child health). Approximately 350 of them considered themselves to be committed vegetarians or vegans. Every participant provided self-reported dietary data for analysis via a questionnaire.

From the gathered information, the researchers found that the men who were vegetarian or vegan were also more likely to have depression than their meat-eating counterparts. While vegetarian diets are typically associated with cardiovascular health and other benefits, those who follow such diet restrictions can also ultimately limit their intake of micronutrients important for good mental health.

Unsplash/Cynthia Magana

The researchers noted that vegetarians, as a group, tend to consume less omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, folate, iron and zinc, which are all vital to brain health. They also said that a vegetarian’s intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which are the ones that can cause inflammation in large amounts, is much higher than that of a typical meat eater. One could also look at their consistent consumption of phytoestrogens if they turn to soy as a protein replacement, or pesticides if they don’t buy organic produce, and connect those substances to their risk of depression as well.

It’s worth noting this study’s clear limitation: it only included men. Plus, the potential reasons for the noticeable differences in mental health among the groups of participants are simply additional hypotheses. Researchers did not conduct additional tests to see which of these factors (be it malnutrition or inflammation or phytoestrogens or pesticides) played a significant role on their subjects in particular.

Now, a truly balanced vegetarian (or vegan) diet shouldn’t lead to any mental health problems. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of people who choose to go vegetarian (or even vegan) don’t go about it in a healthy way. They lean heavily into carbs and saturated fats because those are the most readily available food sources but, unfortunately, they make this dietary shift far less advantageous. Doing your research and seeking professional nutritional help makes all the difference when eliminating food groups as large as meat and dairy.