July 25, 2024

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Why are vegetarians more likely to suffer from depression than meat eaters? 

Why are vegetarians more likely to suffer from depression than meat eaters? 


Why are vegetarians more likely to suffer from depression than meat eaters? 

Vegetarians have roughly twice as many episodes of depression as meat-eaters, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders , is based on survey data from Brazil. It fits with previous studies that have found higher rates of depression in people who don’t eat meat.

However, new research shows that this link exists independent of nutrient intake.



According to a Gallup poll, about 5 percent of the U.S. population considers themselves vegan.

Women are about 50% more likely to be vegetarian than men. People who consider themselves liberal are more likely to be vegetarians than conservatives or moderates.


It seems straightforward to look at the association between diet and specific health problems, and to assume that the former causes the latter through some form of nutrient deficiency.


However, the new analysis took into account a wide range of nutritional factors, including total caloric intake, protein intake, micronutrient intake and levels of food processing.

This suggests that the higher rates of depression among vegetarians are not due to the nutrients in their diets.


So, what might explain the link between vegetarianism and depression? Is there some non-nutritive mechanism that causes the former to cause the latter? Or is the relationship entirely due to other factors?


There may be several reasons for the link between vegetarianism and depression.


First, it’s possible that depression makes people more likely to become vegan, rather than the other way around.

Symptoms of depression may include rumination of negative thoughts, and feelings of guilt.


Assuming that depressed and non-depressed people are equally likely to encounter the disturbing facts of slaughterhouses and factory farming, depressed people may be more likely to regurgitate these thoughts and be more likely to make a case for their role in creating demand feel guilty.


In this case, it’s not necessarily wrong for a depressed vegan to think this way.

While depression is sometimes characterized as having unrealistically negative perceptions, there is evidence that people with mild to moderate depression have more realistic judgments about the outcome of uncertain events and about their roles and abilities know.


In this case, cruelty to animals does exist in meat production. And that’s really driven by consumer demand for cheap meat. Sometimes in factory farming, animals are really cruelly treated.


Second, sticking to a vegetarian diet may lead to depression for reasons other than nutrition.

Even if there is no lack of “happy nutrients” in vegetarian diets, giving up meat may be causing depression in other ways.


For example, eating a vegetarian diet may affect a person’s relationships with others and participation in social activities. In fact, it is sometimes associated with ridicule or other forms of social exclusion.


Notably, the new study is based on survey data collected in Brazil, a country known for its meat-heavy diet.

Some survey data point to a dramatic increase in veganism in Brazil in recent years, from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2018. However, a recent paper surveyed more than 14,000 Brazilians and found that only 82 were vegetarians.


One wonders if the same link between vegetarianism and depression would be observed in India or other countries where vegetarianism is more of a social norm.

More importantly, will we see this relationship disappear over time as the proportion of veganism in the UK and other developed countries increases?


In the end, it’s possible that neither vegetarianism nor depression caused the other, but both were associated with some third factor.

This could be any number of traits or experiences associated with vegetarianism and depression.


For example, women are more likely than men to become vegetarians and are also more likely to experience depression.

However, the Brazilian study took gender into account, excluding this particular third variable.


One variable that hasn’t been studied but appears to be linked to both veganism and depression is exposure to violent imagery in the meat industry.

Prevention of cruelty to animals is the most frequently cited reason for avoiding meat by vegans.


Documentaries like “Dominion” and “Earthlings” depicting the brutality of the meat industry cannot easily be described as feel-good movies.

It’s easy to imagine that someone who consumes this kind of media would become vegan, especially when most people choose to look at it differently.


Conversely, the social experiences of vegetarians may contribute to depression, depression may lead to an increased likelihood of becoming a vegetarian, or vegetarianism and depression may be caused by a third variable, such as exposure to violent meat industry images.


This article was first published in The Conversation magazine.




Why are vegetarians more likely to suffer from depression than meat eaters? 

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