Why are vegetarians more likely to be depressed than meat eaters?

Opinion: There are several possible reasons for the links between vegetarianism and depression, a new study has found

By Chris Bryant, University of Bath

According to a new study, vegetarians have about twice as many depressive episodes as meat eaters. The study, based on survey data from Brazil, agrees with previous research that found higher rates of depression in people who avoid meat. However, the new study suggests that this association is independent of food intake.

It may seem easy to consider a link between a diet and certain health problems and assume that the former causes the latter through some form of malnutrition. However, the new analysis, published in the Journal of Mood Disorders, considered a variety of dietary factors, including total calorie intake, protein intake, micronutrient intake, and level of food processing. This suggests that the higher rates of depression in vegetarians are not caused by the nutrient content of their diets.

So what might explain the link between vegetarianism and depression? Is there some non-dietary mechanism that makes the former cause the latter? Or is the relationship due to something else entirely?

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage additional content that may set cookies on your device and collect data about your activities. Please review your details and accept them to load the content.manage settings

From Lyric FM’s Culture File, Ian McDonald on his epic audio story of people who don’t eat animals

First, it’s possible that depression makes people more likely to become vegetarians than vice versa. Symptoms of depression can include rumination over negative thoughts and feelings of guilt.

Assuming that depressed and non-depressed people are equally as likely to encounter the harrowing truth of slaughterhouses and factory farming, it’s possible that depressed people are more likely to ponder these thoughts and feel more guilty for their part in creating demand.

The depressed vegetarian is not necessarily wrong in this case if he thinks so. While depression is sometimes characterized as unrealistically negative perceptions, there is evidence that people with mild to moderate depression have more realistic judgments about the outcome of uncertain events and more realistic perceptions of their own role and abilities.

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage additional content that may set cookies on your device and collect data about your activities. Please review your details and accept them to load the content.manage settings

From the RTÉ Archives, Gay Byrne interviews Peter Cox, vegetarian and author of the book You Don’t Need Meat on The Late Late Show in 1986

In this case, there really is cruel treatment of animals in meat production. And that’s really because of consumer demand for cheap meat. Second, it’s possible that following a vegetarian diet can cause depression for reasons other than diet.

While a vegetarian diet does not lack any “happiness nutrient,” not eating meat may cause depression in other ways. For example, adopting a vegetarian diet can interfere with relating to others and participation in social activities, and is sometimes associated with teasing or other forms of social ostracism.

Specifically, the new study is based on survey data collected in Brazil, a country known for its meat-heavy diet. Some polling data suggests a sharp rise in vegetarianism in Brazil in recent years, from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2018. However, the most recent study polled over 14,000 Brazilians and found just 82 vegetarians — little more than half a cent .

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage additional content that may set cookies on your device and collect data about your activities. Please review your details and accept them to load the content.manage settings

On RTÉ Radio 1’s The Business, Denis Cotter of Paradiso vegetarian restaurant in Cork and his supplier Ultan Walsh of Gort na Nain Farm talk about their working relationship

One has to wonder 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 the relationship fade over time as the rate of vegetarianism increases in Britain and other developed countries?

Finally, it is possible that neither vegetarianism nor depression cause the other, but both are linked to a third factor. These can be any number of traits or experiences associated with both vegetarianism and depression.

For example, women are more likely than men to eat vegetarian food and are more likely to suffer from depression. However, the Brazilian study took gender into account and excluded this particular third variable.

Not checked

One variable that has not been studied but is plausibly associated with both vegetarianism and depression is exposure to violent images of the meat industry. Avoiding cruelty to animals is the most commonly cited reason why vegetarians avoid meat.

documentaries like domination and earthlings depicting the atrocities in the meat industry cannot easily be described as feel-good films. It’s easy to imagine that a person who consumes this type of media would become both vegetarian and depressed, especially when most people choose to look the other way.

There are several possible reasons for the link between vegetarianism and depression. This new study suggests that a vegetarian diet is not the cause of depression. Instead, the vegetarian social experience may contribute to depression, depression may lead to an increased likelihood of becoming a vegetarian, or both vegetarianism and depression may be caused by a third variable, such as: B. exposure to violent images of the meat industry.

Chris Bryant is an Honorary Research Associate in the University of Bat’s Department of Psychology. This article was originally published by The Conversation.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


Comments are closed.