The mental health effects of a plant-based diet

Polly Tyler May 4, 2020
The mental health effects of a plant-based diet

Researchers from the University of Alabama have looked at 18 studies representing over 160,000 individuals regarding the link between the consumption or avoidance of meat and psychological health. The meta-analysis found that non-meat eaters were, on average, more likely to be suffering from depression, anxiety or another mental health disorder than their omnivore counterparts.

The study, ‘Meat and Mental Health: A systematic review of meat abstention and depression, anxiety, and related phenomena’ leads analysts to advise they do not “support avoiding meat consumption for overall psychological health benefits.”

The results showed that those who excluded meat from their diets generally had a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self harming behaviours. While there appears to be a correlation between poorer mental health outcomes and a vegetarian diet, the analysis emphasises this does not imply causation.

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

Researchers have three main hypotheses for what they’re observing: either 1. the mental health issues were a direct result of biochemical changes to the brain brought on by a vegetarian diet; 2. both poor psychological health and a meat-restrictive diet coincided independently; or 3. existing mental disorders led individuals to adopt a meat-free diet because it seemed healthier or because “they were more sensitive to the suffering of animals.”

However, large discrepancies between the quality of individual studies have been uncovered, with nearly half presenting high to severe risk of bias, depending on the methodological rigour applied.

This has led the authors of the meta-analysis to state: “Despite the high confidence we place in our finding that meat-abstention is linked to psychological disorders, study designs and lack of rigour precluded valid inferences of temporality and causality.”

While the risks and benefits of vegan and vegetarian diets have been debated for centuries, the jury is still out an a conclusive result.

Some people avoid meat for ethical reasons over health reasons so extra strategies should be considered to keep up your mental health. You should always make sure you’re doing what’s best for you to keep you happy and healthy.

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Polly Tyler is a freelance writer who loves to write! Reading and writing were her first loves and she's written content for all kinds of different websites and businesses. Check her out: