Summary: A new study reveals that vegetarians are twice as likely to suffer from depression as those who eat meat. While nutrition plays a role in depressive symptoms, researchers say that social factors and the upheaval of animal treatment contribute to symptoms of depression.
Source: The conversation
According to a new study, vegetarians have about twice as many depressive episodes as meat eaters.
The study, based on survey data in Brazil, matches previous research that found higher rates of depression among those who give up meat. However, the new study suggests that this link exists independently of nutritional intake.
It may seem straightforward to look at a link between diet and specific health conditions and assume that the former is causing the latter via some form of nutritional deficiency.
Yet the new analysis, published in the Affective Disorders Diary, considered a wide 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 caused by the nutritional content of their diet.
So what could explain the link between vegetarianism and depression? Is there a non-nutritional mechanism that causes the first to cause the second? Or does the relationship depend entirely on something else?
First, it’s possible that depression makes people more likely to become vegetarians rather than the other way around. Symptoms of depression can include ruminating on negative thoughts, as well as feelings of guilt.
Assuming that depressed and non-depressed people are equally likely to encounter the shocking truth of slaughterhouses and factory farming, it is possible that depressed people are more likely to ruminate on these thoughts and more likely to feel guilty about their role in creating demand. .
The depressed vegetarian, in this case, is not necessarily wrong to think so. While depression is sometimes characterized as having unrealistic negative perceptions, there is evidence to suggest that people with mild to moderate depression have more realistic judgments about the outcome of uncertain events and more realistic perceptions of their own roles and capacities.
In this case, there really is cruel treatment of animals in meat production. And this is really due to consumer demand for cheap meat.
Second, adherence to a vegetarian diet may cause depression for reasons other than nutrition. Even though there is no “happy nutrient” missing from a vegetarian diet, giving up meat may cause depression in other ways.
For example, adopting a vegetarian diet may affect one’s relationship with others and participation in social activities, and may sometimes be associated with teasing or other forms of social ostracism.
Notably, the new study is based on survey data collected in Brazil, a country famous for its meat-rich diet. Some survey data has indicated a sharp increase in vegetarianism in Brazil in recent years, from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2018. However, the recent article surveyed over 14,000 Brazilians and found only 82 vegetarians – just over half a percent. .
One has to wonder if the same link between vegetarianism and depression would be seen in India or other countries where vegetarianism is more of a social norm. More importantly, as the rate of vegetarianism increases in the UK and other developed countries, will we see the relationship disappear over time?
Finally, neither vegetarianism nor depression may cause the other, but both are associated with a third factor. It could be any number of characteristics or experiences associated with both vegetarianism and depression.
For example, women are more likely than men to be vegetarians and to suffer from depression. However, the Brazilian study took gender into account, excluding this particular third variable.
One variable that has not been examined, but is likely related to both vegetarianism and depression, is exposure to violent images of the meat industry. Preventing cruelty to animals is the reason most often cited by vegetarians for avoiding meat.
Documentaries like Dominion and Earthlings that depict the cruelty in the meat industry cannot easily be described as feel-good movies. One can easily imagine that someone who consumes this kind of media would become both a vegetarian and, especially when most people choose to look away, depressed.
There are several possible reasons for the link between vegetarianism and depression. This new study suggests that vegetarian nutrition is not the cause of depression.
Instead, vegetarian social experience may contribute to depression, depression may result in an increased likelihood of becoming a vegetarian, or vegetarianism and depression may be caused by a third variable, such as exposure to violent images of the meat industry.
About this diet and depression research news
Author: Chris Bryant
Source: The conversation
Contact: Chris Bryant – The Conversation
Image: Image is in public domain
Original research: Access closed.
“Association between meatless diet and depressive episodes: a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from the Longitudinal Adult Health Study (ELSA-Brasil)” by Ingrid Kohl et al. Affective Disorders Diary
Association between meatless diet and depressive episodes: a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from the Longitudinal Adult Health Study (ELSA-Brazil)
The association between vegetarianism and depression is still unclear. We sought to investigate the association between a meatless diet and the presence of depressive episodes in adults.
A cross-sectional analysis was performed with baseline data from the ELSA-Brasil cohort, which included 14,216 Brazilians between the ages of 35 and 74. A meat-free diet was defined using a validated food frequency questionnaire. The Clinical Interview Schedule-Revised (CIS-R) tool was used to assess depressive episodes. The association between a meatless diet and the presence of depressive episodes was expressed in the form of a prevalence ratio (PR), determined by a Poisson regression adjusted for potentially confounding and/or mediating variables: sociodemographic parameters, smoking , alcohol consumption, physical activity, several clinical variables, self-consumption. -assessed health status, body mass index, micronutrient intake, protein, level of food processing, daily energy intake and changes in diet over the previous 6 months.
We found a positive association between the prevalence of depressive episodes and a meatless diet. Non-meat eaters experienced approximately twice the frequency of depressive episodes of meat eaters, with PRs ranging from 2.05 (95% CI 1.00 to 4.18) in the crude model to 2.37 ( 95% CI 1.24 to 4.51) in the fully adjusted model.
The cross-sectional design excluded the investigation of causal relationships.
Depressive episodes are more common in people who do not eat meat, regardless of socioeconomic factors and lifestyle. Nutritional deficiencies do not explain this association. The nature of the association remains unclear and longitudinal data are needed to clarify the causal relationship.
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