Research Review: Depression And Anxiety Less Prevalent In Meat-Eaters Than Vegetarians

A meta-analysis looking at a wide range of research into the links between diet and mental health has found a stronger correlation of depression and anxiety among vegans and vegetarians compared to meat-eaters. While, as ever, correlation is not to be confused with causation, the exact cause of this perceived trend could provide interesting insights into how what we put in our mouths influences what goes on in our heads.

To eat meat, or not eat meat? A question that has been high on the minds of the environmentally-conscious in recent years, as mounting evidence has pointed towards the negative impacts of animal agriculture on climate change (though people are potty-training cows and shooting their sh!t with plasma to improve this). While its impact on the environment is easier to quantify, food’s effect on our mood is harder to establish.

To investigate if a correlation existed, researchers decided to take a deep dive into existing studies regarding a meat, vegetarian, or vegan diet and the instance of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The subsequent review was published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.

The review concerned itself with the quantitative data (that is, crunching numbers) surrounding meat consumption or avoidance, and reported instances of depression, and anxiety. It used five online databases to search for relevant studies and found 20 that fit the bill. The resulting sample of 171,802 participants was made up of 157,778 meat consumers and 13,259 meat abstainers, be they vegan or vegetarian.

Their findings showed an association of meat-eating with lower rates of depression and anxiety when compared to vegans and vegetarians.  This association was strongest in the studies the researchers termed the most “rigorous,” and didn’t appear to be affected by sex (that is, male or female – not the participants’ love lives).

It’s important to note that the paper’s disclosure statement reveals that some researchers on the review have “previously received funding from the Beef Checkoff, through the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.” As such, like a good steak, the conclusions are best taken with a pinch of salt.

“The purpose of this meta-analysis was to extend our previous systematic review … and provide quantitative evidence to inform clinicians, policy-makers, and future research,” wrote the review authors. “Our results show that meat abstention (vegetarianism or veganism) is clearly associated with poorer mental health, specifically higher levels of both depression and anxiety.”

The review doesn’t explore why this association exists and makes a point of stating that a causal link cannot and should not be inferred. As for whether Big Beef were involved, it seems unlikely, but you can bet big beef is what’ll be going down in the comments section.

[H/T: Sapien Journal]

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