If You’re a Vegetarian, You Could Be at Risk for These Mental Health Conditions

Cutting out meat to save animals and spare the environment is a noble cause—until it impacts your mental health.

SaladFoxys Forest Manufacture/ShutterstockThere are myriad health benefits that come with making the decision to switch to a vegetarian diet, but there can be some complications too.

Health experts already warn that a vegetarian diet can lead to possible nutrient deficiencies, but a new study adds another concern—the potential impact of a no-meat diet on your mental health. Based on continuing research, experts are warning that a vegetarian diet may be associated with panic attacks, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Women’s Health reports.

Research into the possible mental health risks associated with vegetarianism began last year, when an Australian study discovered that participating vegetarians demonstrated a less optimistic view of the world around them as opposed to meat-eaters. According to Women’s Health, the study also reports that vegetarians are 18 percent more likely to experience depression, and 28 percent more likely to contend with panic attacks and anxiety. The findings from a previous German study show that vegetarians are 15 percent more likely to experience depressive conditions and twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders. (Here are more everyday habits that could up your risk for depression.)

Health experts have yet to pinpoint the exact science behind the link. “We don’t know if a vegetarian diet causes depression and anxiety, or if people who are predisposed to those mental conditions gravitate toward vegetarianism,” Boston psychiatrist Emily Deans, MD, told Women’s Health.

Experts believe it’s likely that people with mental illness are more likely to keep a closer eye on their plate, and in turn this causes the heightening of their symptoms. Regardless of the limited understanding of mental illness and vegetarianism, doctors agree that what you eat will impact your mental health, for better or for worse. No matter what you eat, you should know how to recognize these warning signs of an emotional breakdown.

Dr. Deans warns that many of the nutrients our brain needs are often found in meat and animal proteins. When our brain is lacking in these vitamins, the levels of glutamate in our bodies is lower, which causes an increase in feelings of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. When our brains don’t have enough zinc or iron, both of which we find in meat, then it’s expected that one can experience mood swings. Dr. Deans recalls that in the past she’s treated patients who believe they’ve had a panic attack but are really just experiencing iron deficiency. (These are the signs of a panic attack.)

These feelings can compound themselves even worse in vegetarians who are unsure what to eat and instead reach for white bread, rice, pasta, and cereal. Experts call this the “carb-itarian diet” and warn that the “resulting seesaw of blood sugar and hormone levels may lead to even more irritability, depression, and anxiety.” Check out the iron-rich foods all vegetarians should eat.

Some vegetarians will never experience adverse mental health affects as result of going meatless, but doctors still say it’s a good idea to seek out a professional medical opinion when making a drastic change to your diet. You should also consider keeping track of your food and moods as you begin a new diet, which will enable you to monitor how you’re feeling based on what you’re eating.

If you’re thinking of going meatless, here are some vegetarian dishes that will help you get the nutrients you need.

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