Vegetarians are more likely to be depressed than meat eaters, a new study has suggested.
Researchers in the US reviewed 18 studies published from 1997 to 2019 which examined the relationship between mental health and eating meat on a total of 160,257 people.
The authors cited one study from 2012 which suggested that a vegetarian diet might be chosen by some with mental disorders “as a form of safety or self-protective behaviour” due to the perception that plant-based diets are healthier.
The 2020 research paper, conducted by experts at the University of Southern Indiana and the University of Alabama, concluded that vegetarians and vegans had “significantly” higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety and self harm.
Published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the research found that one in three vegetarians suffer from depression or anxiety.
It was also suggested that avoiding meat was a “behavioural marker” for those with already poor mental health, however this would require further investigation.
“Those who avoided meat consumption had significantly higher rates or risk of depression, anxiety, and/or self-harm behaviours,” the study concluded.
The research says that while “vegetarianism for ethical or religious reasons predates modern history”, the choice to become a vegetarian for health reasons is a “recent phenomenon” that began in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
“Given that a century ago nutrition science was in its infancy, the earliest arguments for the superiority of ‘meat-free’ diets for health were shaped more by religious and moral sentiments than by empirical evidence,” the study says.
In more recent years, investigations into the nutritional effects of not eating meat “has become increasingly contradictory”.
According to the authors, 11 of the 18 studies included in the report demonstrated that abstaining from meat was associated with poorer psychological health, four did not reach a definitive conclusion and three showed that vegetarians and vegans had better outcomes.
“The most rigorous studies demonstrated that the prevalence or risk of depression and/or anxiety were significantly greater in participants who avoided meat consumption,” the authors concluded.
Of the total 160,257 participants, 149,559 were meat-consumers and 8,584 were meat-abstainers from geographic regions including Europe, Asia and the US.
However, the authors stressed that the evidence linking vegetarianism with mental disorders is “not unequivocal” and that their study does not support avoiding meat consumption for “overall psychological health benefits”.
Dr Edward Archer, from the University of Alabama and one of the study’s authors, said: “While the risks and benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets have been debated for centuries, our results show that meat eaters have better psychological health.
“These findings have implications when defining what constitutes a ‘healthy diet’. Mental health may need to be emphasised when evaluating the benefits and risks of particular dietary patterns.”
Echoing the report’s findings, Aseem Malhotra, an NHS Consultant Cardiologist, said in a tweet: “In general, if you want to avoid increased risk of depression, anxiety and self-harm behaviour then do eat meat.
“If you’re vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, then please personally invest extra in strategies to protect your mental health.”
Source: Thanks https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/05/03/vegetarians-likely-suffer-depression-meat-eaters-study-suggests/