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What to Know About Veganism and Depression

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 25, 2021

Veganism is a type of diet that includes only plants. People who eat a vegan diet avoid meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, and honey. They also typically don’t use other products that come from animals, such as leather or wool.

A well-planned vegan diet can have several health benefits. Some of these include lower blood pressure, heart disease, and a reduced risk of cancer.

On the other hand, a lack of meat and dairy in your diet can play a role in new or worsened psychological symptoms. As a result, people who eat a vegan diet can sometimes have depression.

Impact of Veganism on Your Mental Health

Physically healthier. Eating a vegan diet can lower your risk for chronic disease. It can also improve other health conditions, such as:

When these conditions improve, you may experience a better sense of well-being and health. 

Mood effects. Some people say that eating a vegan diet lowers their anxiety and improves their mood. Other people report that it actually makes their mood and anxiety worse

A vegan diet alone doesn’t cause depression. Psychological illnesses are complicated. There are many causes of depression and why you might have it. 

Nutrient deficiencies. However, eating vegan can lead to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies. Not getting enough of the essential nutrition your body requires might cause depression symptoms.

Veganism, Vitamins, and Depression

If you eat a vegan diet, you are likely getting plenty of: 

  • Fiber
  • Folic acid 
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin E 

However, vegan diets are usually lower in or missing:

Lower amounts of some of these vitamins and nutrients can cause mood problems and symptoms of depression.

You need B12. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in veganism. Plants don’t have B12. It’s only possible to get B12 in a diet that has meat, eggs, and dairy, or foods with added B12. A supplement is probably the best option if you are on a vegan diet. You might not have enough vitamin B12 in your system. 

Not enough B12 can cause symptoms like:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Depression

Omega-3s. Fatty acids like omega-3s are important for your brain. People who eat a vegan diet might not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids. This can lead to problems with learning and memory.

Amino acids. Amino acids come from protein. Your body uses them to make important brain chemicals that help with your mood. If you don’t have a well-planned vegan diet, you might not get enough protein. This means you may not consume enough amino acids, which could cause depression symptoms.

Treatment for Depression in Veganism

Visit your doctor. If you eat a vegan diet and you have symptoms of depression, make sure to talk to your doctor. They will do some tests and check for any vitamin deficiencies that might be causing your symptoms. They might give you a vitamin B12 shot

Well-balanced foods. Depression isn’t simple and veganism doesn’t directly cause depression. Eat a diet that gives you all the nutrients and vitamins you need. Keep in mind that food alone won’t treat your depression. Your depression might have nothing to do with your vegan diet.

See a specialist. Your doctor might suggest you take medication or see a therapist for your depression. It’s important to remember that taking supplements also isn’t a treatment. It shouldn’t replace seeing your doctor or a psychologist.

Preventing Depression in Veganism

Plan, plan, and plan. Choosing not to eat certain healthy foods means you must plan to get the vitamins and nutrients you might be missing. Eating a well-planned vegan diet can help you prevent nutritional deficiencies that might cause mood problems or other health problems.

To get enough vitamin B12, you can add these foods to your vegan diet:

  • Cereals with added B12
  • Soy or rice milk with added B12
  • Pasta or whole grains with added B12
  • Nutritional yeast with added B12

To get enough amino acids, make sure to eat plants with lots of protein, including:

Omega-3 fish oil pills will not treat depression on their own. It’s best to get your fatty acids from your food. 

Vegan foods with fatty acids include:

  • Walnuts
  • Soy oil
  • Tofu
  • Soy milk with added omega-3
  • Chia seeds
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Hemp drinks

A balanced daily vegan diet typically includes:

  • At least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables 
  • Starchy carbohydrates
  • Unsaturated fats and oils
  • Dairy alternatives 
  • Plant proteins 
  • Plenty of fluids

Other Ways to Prevent Depression on a Vegan Diet

Multivitamin. Take a daily multivitamin. Most people don’t need to take multivitamins every day and can get everything they need from a healthy diet. However, if you’re struggling to get enough vitamin B12 in your vegan diet, a basic daily multivitamin can help. It won’t cure your depression, but it can help stop deficiencies that might be adding to your symptoms.

A balanced meal plan. Create a meal plan to make sure your diet is balanced. Planning your meals for an entire week can help you get the best nutrition for your body. It can also help you avoid fast foods that don’t have much value.

Medication. Talk to your doctor about medication. If you’ve made changes to your diet and you don’t feel better, talk to your doctor about medication. Depression or mood problems can be linked to veganism. Making sure you have a balanced diet and medical care from your doctor is important.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: “Vitamin B12 deficiency can be sneaky, harmful.”

Manulife Prize: “Can a vegan diet have a negative impact on your mental health?”

NHS: “The vegan diet.”

NIH: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Health Professional Fact Sheet.”

NIH: “Vitamin B12 – Consumer.”

Nutrients: “Depressive Symptoms and Vegetarian Diets: Results from the Constances Cohort.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Health effects of vegan diets.”

Translational Psychiatry: The effects of plant-based diets on the body and the brain: a systematic review.”

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