According to a new study, vegetarians have almost twice as many depressive episodes as meat eaters.
The study, based on data from a Brazilian survey, echoes previous research that found higher rates of depression among meat quitters. However, the new study suggests that this link exists independent of nutritional intake.
It seems straightforward to see a connection between a diet and specific health problems and to assume that the former is causing the latter through some type of nutritional deficiency.
Yet the new analysis, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, takes into account a wider range of nutritional factors, including total calorie intake, protein intake, micronutrient intake and level of food processing. This suggests that the higher rates of depression among vegetarians are not due to the nutrients in their diet.
So what could explain the link between vegetarianism and depression? Is there a non-nutritional mechanism that causes the former to become the latter? Or is the relationship down to something else entirely?
First, it is possible that being depressed makes people more likely to become vegetarians than the other way around. Symptoms of depression can include negative thoughts as well as feelings of guilt.
Assuming that depressed and non-depressed people are equally likely to encounter the disturbing truth of slaughterhouses and factory farming, it is possible that depressed people are more likely to voice those thoughts, and create demand. are more likely to feel guilty for their part. .
Sad vegans, in this case, are not wrong to think so. 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 outcomes of uncertain events and more realistic perceptions of their role and abilities. are
In this case, meat production actually involves cruel treatment of animals. And this is actually due to consumer demand for cheap meat.
Second, it is possible that adherence to a vegetarian diet causes depression for reasons other than nutrition. Although a vegetarian diet does not lack a “happy nutrient,” it may be the case that giving up meat causes depression through other means.
For example, adopting a vegetarian diet can affect relationships with others and participation in social activities, and can sometimes be associated with bullying or other forms of social awkwardness.
Specifically, 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 rapid increase in vegetarianism in Brazil in recent years, going from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2018. However, a recent paper surveyed more than 14,000 Brazilians and found only 82 were vegetarians—hardly more than half. Cent.
One has to wonder if the same relationship between vegetarianism and depression would be observed in India or other countries where vegetarianism is a social norm. More importantly, as rates of vegetarianism increase in the UK and other developed countries, do we see the relationship disappearing over time?
Finally, it is possible that neither vegetarianism nor depression cause each other, but both are linked to some third factor. These may be a number of characteristics or experiences that are associated with both veganism and depression.
For example, women are more likely than men to be vegetarians and to experience depression. However, the Brazilian study took sex into account, negating this particular third variable.
One variable that was not examined, but is potentially associated with both veganism and depression, is exposure to violent images of the meat industry. Preventing cruelty to animals is the most commonly given reason that vegetarians give for avoiding meat.
Documentaries such as Dominion and Earthlings that depict cruelty in the meat industry cannot easily be described as good films. One can easily imagine that a person consuming this type of media would become vegan and, especially when most people choose to look the other way, become depressed.
There are several possible reasons for the link between vegetarianism and depression. This new study suggests that a vegetarian diet does not cause depression.
Instead, the vegetarian social experience may contribute to depression, the depression may lead to the likelihood of becoming a vegetarian, or both vegetarianism and depression may be due to a third variable, such as exposure to the specter of a violent meat industry.