Can Vegetarian Diets Cause Mental Disorders?

Can vegetarian diets cause mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety? Some people believe so. And a new observational study shows that vegetarians do indeed have an elevated risk of such problems. Whether that’s really cause and effect is, as usual, impossible to know.

What do you think?

 

63 Comments

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  1. Elenor UK
    Thank you for posting this, it once again confirms my suspicions.

    I became vegetarian in 1986.

    Before 1986 I cannot recall being unhappy or anxious. I remember being content at primary school and secondary school and leaving secondary school with the best qualification results of my peers. This performance academically continued in my first year in college even though I did not like the college and had missed old friends from school.

    In the second year of college I became vegetarian.

    The second year my exam results were awful.

    I had developed anxiety, mood problems and depression. I put my problems down to being unhappy with the college and hormonal changes.
    As time went on my problems with anxiety and depression got worse. I was diagnosed and treated for depression and social anxiety disorder. Over the years I have also had suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and alcohol dependency.

    I began to think this is just the way I am, that I was never going to be better.

    Back in June I watched a BBC documentary (The men who made us fat) which proved to be life changing for me as it opened the door to voracious research on my part which led to the realisation that my diet had seriously damaged my health mentally and also also caused physical harm.

    I cut out processed food, cut down dramatically on sugar, and cut down on carbs.

    I learned to cook from scratch and began using supplements.

    Almost immediately my brain fog began to lift, as did my mood! My energy levels which had been dreadful, dramatically improved!

    I was amazed!! I had consigned my future to chronic decline, yet now I was feeling great.

    I read more and more, eventually I finally accepted I did need some animal products in my diet besides diary, two weeks ago I began to eat fish.

    I am now convinced my diet caused 26 years of mental problems. Still better late than never I suppose!

    As a side effect I have lost 6lbs in a month and a half. :-)

    I am refining my diet further to eat fewer carbs and get healthier and healthier. I still have a lot to learn!

    I *never* want to go back to the way I felt!!!!

    Thanks to Andreas for your work.

    I am trying to get my dad who recently developed diabetes to watch your video, however he is terrified of going against his doctors advice :-/

    Reply: #40
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  2. John
    After five years on a vegan diet, and fasting yearly for what I believed was the purging of toxins, I started to feel bad. I was ill at ease, bad tempered, not satisfied with anything and struggled to focus on my job and hobbies. Everything seemed futile and pointless. I developed bad breath. I decided I needed another fast: obviously this bad breath and negativity were caused by toxins, or tiredness, and I just needed to purify my diet.

    So I fasted for a couple of days. When I came off the fast I felt worse than ever. In fact, I felt like I wanted to die. My arms an legs felt weak, I was lethargic, and I would start crying once or twice a day with a feeling of extreme frustration at how bad I felt. I had episodes of intense depersonalisation, where I didn't feel that I was real. I thought I was going nuts. And also, I lost the ability to sleep well, only getting a couple of hours a night, and sometimes nothing. Through all this, I continued to work in my teaching job. I wanted to kill myself, and if it hadn't been for my wife and kids, I might have done so.

    Over the next couple of years, I became vegetarian, rather than vegan, and recovered significantly, though sleep remained a problem, and I continued to be anxious and easily stressed. I also put on weight, around 5-10 kgs. Then, late last year I switched to low carb,
    and for the first time in five years began to sleep well. My anxiety simply faded away, and I feel good. The weight all came off, the muscle went on, the usual story.

    Our nervous systems and brains need a lot of protein and saturated fat to remain healthy. I starved mine for years, and almost died. I've been to planet vegan and back again, and in hindsight don't recommend the trip.

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  1. Anthony Michael
    Wow....
    I find it really troubling to come onto posts like this, looking for viable information (of which there is much on this page), only to see people attacking one another and calling them all sorts of horrible things in their hearts.
    Man, I hear about this "utopia" thing that i'm apparently trying to live in, and I encounter this hard, hard attitude that "life sucks, get over it," all the time.
    "Those that have not found happiness will always try to tear yours apart." That's how I feel about this whole argument.
    If a utopia would be a place where we were socially responsible enough as a species to not perpetrate torture, chemical manipulation, and genocide of entire species on this planet, including ourselves, then yeah, I guess that would be a utopia. I see the same argument against the homeless in america: "just get a job". Meanwhile, there are more cars, homes, and food than all of the people in the world with "jobs" can even begin to use. The excess jut rots.
    Sorry to go on a tangent, but your argument is the exact reason nobody here takes any responsibility. "Life sucks, get over it."
    Clearly a way to not take any responsibility for anything at all, and that's certainly a shameful thing.
  2. Chris
    I've been a vegetarian since 1985. It came as a surprise to my friends and relatives, who felt I was rejecting them since eating was one of the groups favorite pastimes. My mother, especially, thought I was crazy. She, of all the persons I associated with, felt totally free to give me her opinions.

    How did it come about? I was 40 years old and had been through a number of emotional crises, such as loved ones dying, favorite pets dying, and abusive personal relationships. Gradually the cruelty in the world was creating in me a desire to get totally off this planet. Remember "Stop the World, I want to get off." ? That was me.

    I developed an enormous aversion to killing and eating animals as well as other changes such as examining my life philosophy, religion, and personal relationships. This was a process - it took several years.

    Meanwhile, as the family cook, I would buy meat for dinner, cook it, and not be able to bear eating it. I would look at whole dead plucked chickens sitting in the roasting pan like little people and just put them in the trash. After doing that 2 or 3 times, I stopped buying any chickens. Red meat had gone before that. I felt more like giving the chickens a decent funeral and burial. Apologize, pray for their souls if they had any. The barbarism of the system came to overwhelm me.

    I ate meat for 40 years and never gave it a second thought, so I don't have any vendetta against people who eat meat. Humans evolved eating meat. The balance of nutrients we need to survive include nutrients from animal sources.

    So I became a vegetarian primarily as an emotional response to the pain and cruelty in the world. And it was a matter of that pain and cruelty first affecting me, personally; and secondarily, making the entire wiring of the world a painful slaughter house. That's nature. It's the system we evolved from and due to what might be called my post traumatic stress disorder, it is a system full of horror to me.

    About the post traumatic stress disorder - terrible experiences in my life brought on generalized anxiety and panic attacks, and some depression. I can see precursors of these conditions in my childhood and my sisters, who live far across the country from me, have been developing variations of anxiety and panic. My parents probably did too. So, the emotional vulnerability was inherited, built in.

    Thus I agree with those who say that emotional sensitivity, or over-sensitivity, drove them to make a number of life changes - among those was becoming vegetarian.

    I have a full appreciation of the other issues that motivate people to become vegetarians, but I have to admit that mine was not an intellectual decision. It was highly emotional -which, of course, does not undercut the common sense value of the vegetarian diet.

    But my vegetarianism did not cause my emotional sensitivities - it was the other way around.

    And then there is the obvious fact that there are vastly more people who have emotional problems who are not vegetarian, than who are. And there are millions of vegetarians who do not have abnormal emotional problems.

    In places like Asia and India being vegetarian comes with the family's/society's culture a lot of the time. It is only in Western culture, where being vegetarian is against custom, that emotional and intellectual leaps produce vegetarians (Western religious groups like the 7th Day Adventists vegetarians not included).

    And something out of the ordinary has happened in a person's emotions or intellect to make them change to vegetarianism.

    If vegetarianism produces any illness, mental or physical, it is due to the West not having any established vegetarian eating habits that have time-tested success in producing good nutrition the way say, India or China, do.

    Most cultures that exist on primarily vegetarian diets, either through belief or poverty/necessity, have evolved systems of eating based on grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, etc.) and beans (soy beans being the stars), as well as milk, cheese and eggs where available.

    It is very easy for a Western person, who grew up eating meat and goes vegetarian, to simply cut out meat without replacing the nutrients that have been lost.

    The deficiencies that result from insufficient protein and Vit. B-6 and B-12 and calcium will cause thinning hair, weak fingernails, fragile skin, slow healing of wounds, fragile and bent bones, heart problems, and heaven knows what else internally.

    Severe B6 and B12 deficiencies can cause depression - it's a possibility - it's not the primary symptom that will be noticed.

    So I personally keep an eye on my protein and calcium intake, and I take B6 and B12 supplements in addition to a multivitamin.

    It may be true that when you are a young vegetarian, if you eat a balanced diet with a sufficient number of calories, you do not have to worry about getting enough protein. But as you get older, say 40-45 yrs. upwards, you have to cut down on calories or get fat.

    But you still require the same amount of protein - which means that a greater and greater part of your diet needs to be devoted to protein - you need to sneak it into snacks, sandwiches, breakfast, drinks, and desserts. Spread it around, so to speak.

    Well - that is part of my story.

    I do wonder about the harm that seems to be done by the steroids given to cattle, whatever chickens receive, regimens of antibiotics and estrogens for milk production, etc.

  3. Caesar J. B. Squitti
    PREVENTION IS THE BEST OF CURES !

    A little research shows that many important elements like iron, protein and B6, B12, are not easily obtained from a vegetarian diet...NOT EASILY !

    One of the symptoms of low iron, is depression. So why are these simple cause and effects being ignored....well when a health system is based on treating symptoms, and when a health system profits from disorders, instead of good health, (Italy has its doctors paid an annual fee per year that rewards good health) then the system promotes complexity and avoiding the best of cures....PREVENTION !

    Based on the book, "The LIGHT: The Rainbow of Truths...T.J.C.C."

  4. Annmarie Kostyk
    It's so true. In the US, doctors give us pills. No one speaks of diet and lifestyle. Quite frankly, I think it's because they don't know.

    I've learned though reading hundreds of books and articles on diet, lifestyle, deficiencies, and supplements.

  5. Anon
    I've been feeling uncomfortable in my body of late and have been reconsidering going vegan or vegetarian. Whenever I feel like this, I feel like it's a "trigger" to mask what's really going on. I definitely could benefit from less stress and a more balanced diet including more vegetables, less sugar, salt, and less caffeine. I have to remind myself that what works for others may not work for me. Over ten years ago, I went on an adventure to serve for organic farmers, and was cohered into a eating a vegetarian then a vegan diet. I started out asking that I be able to buy meat, because I knew it had a positive effect on my mood, but after a while I felt like maybe they were right and I should "cleanse" and I 'd feel better. I started having mood swings, and at a certain point I completely lost control of my thoughts and emotions. I was erratic. At that point, my host asked me to leave and sent me to a strictly vegan home. I enjoyed the people. It was quite peaceful but they were religious about food, and I began to be even more starving. My hands were cold, I was always cold, and I all wanted to do was make fires. I started to become more and more judgmental about my size. I was losing weight so easily and thought wow, this is great. I started my trip at around 135 pounds, 5'5", which was pretty healthy for me, and came home after 3 months at 100 pounds. I had almost never been that size since middle school. I couldn't give it up! I insisted that I eat raw organic with my family, and it wasn't working! They were confused, and busy and I started to go into a downward slope. Anxiety started to get so bad I couldn't eat at all, and I think I went without eating for a week. It was at this point that I told my parents I didn't think I was okay, and not far after that I was admitted into an eating disorder facility for 40 days. I hated this place because I had to eat conventional food, and still to this day struggle with what is truly healthy. It took me three years to recover in a physical sense, meaning that I was at a normal weight and getting a menstrual cycle. My personal opinion about these extreme vegan diets is that if you are already struggling with mental health and think it might be cool, be aware that there are a lot of fanatics out there that will try to make you feel bad for wanting to eat meat or animal products. I understand that there a lot of poorly treated animals out there, that's why I try to spend a little more for organic meat products and I don't consume a large amount of meat. Chinese medicine supports eating meat, and traditional medicine does as well. I still struggle with balance and would like to eat healthier but don't immediately think that eating an extreme diet such as "raw" vegan or simply vegan is necessarily healthy or balanced.
  6. Anon
    Oh yah, I was extremely low on iron, and I think this is why I became so extremely depressed.
    I think sometimes people that are vegetarian that are low on nutrients are sort of loopy and therefore they feel like they are happy. I remember feeling kind of floaty but I lacked being grounded.
  7. james
    Hi,
    I ate meat, eggs, and dairy for around 17 years, then, as I found the toll it took on my conscience increasing, and with small validations from my vegetarian girlfriend at the time, I decided that it was time to stop. This was for entirely moral reasons, not for health. Neither my ex girlfriend nor I really ate very many vegetables, and I found myself consuming a lot of alternative protein sources rather than reducing calories and eating more typical veggies. I have always had some depressive, social, focus-related, and occasionally outburst-related abnormalities, but I was extremely good at Math, Science, Physics, test-taking, and things of that nature. I also retained a fairly strong hold on my emotions and acted both socially and in school plays.
    Since becoming vegetarian, I have noticed increasing tendencies of lower self-control, lower focus, and decreased capacity for new learning (I am now a college sophomore). I do however have more physical energy and now rarely get sick (which honestly I didn't mind all too much).
    I have not lost the aptitudes I had when eating meat, but you could say what would have formerly been easy to understand, especially in math/science is now more difficult. My mental tendencies have shifted to be more like my ex's in some ways. However, I suspected most of this when I started being vegetarian (not vegan, which I am not.), and I would make the same decisions again most likely, just because of the horrors that sat on my plate. I have not become dumb, and I have begun to reincorporate things into my diet. As I do so, I find my moods and focus improving
    As a former moderate to heavy meat eater who wants to normalise my diet and allow myself to think somewhat the way I used to, I find potato chips, soup, peas, onions, and lots of vegetables to be somewhat okay, along with cheeses and organic milk (often with cereal).
    I tried whole grains and legumes for a while, which was fine for labor and bodily energy, but left me kind of fluff-headed. Nuts are also good, and seeds are very similar to them.
    I hope anybody who has read to the end of this has taken something from it, though different foods are sure to benefit some people more than others.
    Good Luck,
    James
  8. Vegan
    Hey guys! Just thought I would add my two bits. Been a vegetarian for almost 20 years now, and a vegan for the last 15 years or so. I wasn't raised vegetarian though! Nope! Ate EVERYTHING!
    Pork, octopus, whatever... but guess what, I was lue oo py!!! Had to see a psychiatrist in my teenage years for I was clinically depressed, suicidal and had a plan to follow through with it. Doc put me on antidepressants... Well, since I have been a vegetarian, yes, that depression came back ONCE, but I learned that eating flax seed, freshly ground, with my breakie did wonders for my brain. As well as eating a variety (key word, VARIETY) of veggies, fruits, nuts and beans. (Always soak dried beans in water for at least eight hours, then drain off the water before crocking, oh, soak the nuts also, like that, they digest sooo much better!!)

    Anyways... since my teenage years, and possibly from having my appendix burst when I was 12 years old, I have had an undiagnosed gluten intolerance. I discovered that in my early 20's, made the changes, and feel great! So here I am, vegan, and gluten free... wow... quite unusual, so, at my husband's encouragement, I went to see a Naturopath to get my health checked over just to be sure things were okay. She right away was wanting me to take a multivitamin, even though I look as healthy as a horse, but I declined, wanting to wait until after we saw the results of the blood test.

    After the blood test, all we saw I needed was to increase my iron, which is common for women my age, and that I easily do with dried figs, apricots, put some molasses on toast and voila! You don't see me napping in the day! Also, after only 6-7 hrs of sleep a night, I am awake and ready for the day! My Naturopath, after seeing my blood test results, never mentioned the multivitamin again...

    Hope this is encouraging to all! Remember, key word is VARIETY! That is, variety of the good stuff, the stuff that doesn't have a face or a mother, is what I'm talking about!!!!!!

  9. Kathy B
    I was a vegetarian in my youth and never suffered from any mental health issues.
    My daughter is a vegetarian at 14 years, and within a year developed OCD, came close to an eating disorder, and turned moody/sullen/hard. She started zinc and inositol supplements and continued with the vegetarian diet. She got her period (been gone for 8 months), called a friend to get-together (been a year since that happened) and is happy and cheerful again. Check out the research at the National Institutes of Health. If you are susceptible to zinc deficiency, then mental health issues may come from vegetarianism. Just take the supplement!
  10. Cass
    This is all very interesting to read, I am a vegetarian, I don't consume milk and very seldomly eat eggs, I have been a veggie for a little over a year now and have been suffering from brain fog, depression and anxiety the entire time. I've always had a little bit of anxiety but it's been at its peak in the last year. I am an animal lover and have been slowly transitioning into veganism but since my last really bad anxiety attack I've been questioning my mental health and diet. Morals and ethics aside, I 100% agree that an unplanned vegetarian diet (like my own) can definitly cause depression and anxiety, I have had some slips where I've eaten some salmon and felt really clear and happy the next day. I still want to work towards a vegan diet because I do not believe animals deserve to suffer for me but for now my only way out of the anxiety and depression are pills pills and more pills and perhaps some fish until I can plan out a vegan diet that will accommodate what my body and my brain need to function! everything is connected, we are what we eat and your mental health is directly connected to your diet and your lifestyle choices, it has nothing to do with anyone's personality, I am a very happy positive person and have felt incredibly overpowered by the unseen forces of anxiety and depression and I feel it is directly linked to my diet considering my lifestyle choices in the past year and my corresponding mood and mental health! Please please please if you're reading this, PLAN your veggie diet and talk to your doctor before you make the transition!
    Reply: #61
  11. erdoke
    I still want to work towards a vegan diet because I do not believe animals deserve to suffer for me

    So you rather suffer yourself instead of eating small amounts of nutrient dense animal foods? Sorry, I must say it is as stupid as it can get.
    Also, believing that no or fewer animals suffer when you eat only plants is very ignorant of what is actually happening around you.

  12. Zahrah
    "I have been vegan for 3 years and vegetarian for most of my life...I have also been saddled with Major Depression and an Anxiety Disorder. I had the depressive and anxious symptoms way before I adopted a vegetarian diet. Since I have been following many veggie and psychiatric forums - I have come to the conclusion that people who have Depression and/or Anxiety Disorders are more than likely to adopt a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. The main motivation being an area which we have absolute control over...our meals! Think about it...Reading the ingredient label appeals to the OCD-side of us!!!
  13. Chorisia
    I have been a vegetarian,raw food emphasis for 50 years strictly Vegan for thirty,broadly based largely raw diet. at 72 in excellent health. My father was an entertainer,ornotholigist and activist against cruelty to animals so I learned at an early age what animal exploitation involves clearly the seeds to my later dietary change. In western Canada in the late 1960's was introduced to Natural Hygiene ( now called Health Science) following the principles of which which I attribute to my excellent health. Many are drawn to a Vegan diet due to a sensitivity to and a wish to avoid anything to do with animal 'husbandry'. Some may define us as 'tender minded' to a fault?
    I certainly find myself in down moods looking at the world as it is,(Rhodiola helps :-). When I think of how little was known about the needs of an adequate Vegan diet when I started,it really was a leap of faith,compared to today with the wealth of information on line; Dr Greger offers wealth of information.There is now overwhelming evidence that an informed health orientated Vegan way of eating is better than a 'conventional' diet ...Comes from a plant eat it,if its made in one dont :-)
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