The Scary Mental Health Risks of Going Meatless
Vegetarianism can come with some unexpected side effects.
BY JILL WALDBIESER December 2, 2015
Her symptoms were sudden and severe. Drew Ramsey's 35-year-old patient had always been fit and active, but her energy had flatlined. When she did manage to drag herself to the gym, it didn't help. She felt anxious and was often on the verge of tears for no reason, even when she was with friends. Worst of all were her panic attacks, a rare occurrence in the past but now so common that she was afraid of losing her job ...
Sure enough, six weeks after adding animal protein back onto her plate, her energy rebounded and her panic attacks dropped by 75 percent.
Her case is far from unique. "I hear from vegetarians every day; they have this terrible depression and anxiety, and they don't understand why," says Lierre Keith, author of The Vegetarian Myth. "People think they're eating a beautiful, righteous diet, but they don't realize there's a potential dark side."
It's true that many of America's estimated 8 million vegetarians are drawn to the diet's promise of a healthier weight, heart, and planet. They pass on beef, poultry, and pork, unaware that a growing body of research suggests a link between going meatless and an elevated risk for serious mental disorders.
So it was startling last year when Australian researchers revealed that vegetarians reported being less optimistic about the future than meat eaters. What's more, they were 18 percent more likely to report depression and 28 percent more likely to suffer panic attacks and anxiety. A separate German study backs this up, finding that vegetarians were 15 percent more prone to depressive conditions and twice as likely to suffer anxiety disorders.