The Chicken and the Egg: Does Vegetarianism Cause Anxiety or Do Anxious People Become Vegetarians?

The Chicken and the Egg: Does Vegetarianism Cause Anxiety or Do Anxious People Become Vegetarians?

Another day, another study, this time finding that while all other studies have found the contrary, the Medical University of Graz in Austria found that vegetarians had more health problems than meat eaters.  According to CBS's coverage, "Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer." In addition,

Vegetarians reported higher levels of impairment from disorders, chronic diseases, and “suffer significantly more often from anxiety/depression.”

Subjects who consumed lower amounts of animal fat were also linked to poor health care practices, such as avoidance of vaccinations and a lack of preventive care.

There are hundreds of reasons why people become vegetarians -- ranging from religious beliefs to cruelty-free eating -- and a multitude of vegetarian diets.  Unlike meat-eaters, who tend to consume from a small pool of meat options (cow, pig, chicken, etc), vegetarians have thousands of foods they may be gathering their nutrients from.  Vegetarianism is the absence of animal products, not the consumption of a specific item.  Therefore, you have very healthy vegetarians who are intaking protein from non-animal sources and you have very unhealthy vegetarians who are not ingesting animal products, but are maintaining their caloric intake with what amounts to junk food.

Just because you're a vegetarian doesn't mean that you're eating a balanced diet. 

lettuce wrap

Image: Stacy via Flickr

I kept returning to the health issues themselves, some of which are the result of decision-making and some of which are medical issues.  And all of them speak more to the type of people who are drawn to a vegetarian diet.  Vegetarians are conscious eaters, choosing food for a very specific reason.  It would follow then that some people who are anxious would focus more on what they place inside their body as a form of control.  Vegetarians can't mindlessly try out those samples as they walk through Costco.  They need to look at the labeling, ensure that it doesn't have animal products inside.  There is no eating without thinking when it comes to vegetarianism.

This isn't to say that there aren't mindful meat-eaters.  Of course there are meat-eaters who think long and hard about what they place in their body as well as the living conditions of the animals.  But while not every meat-eater needs to be mindful, every vegetarian operating in the meat-eating world does.

Those who eschew hormones in meat may also be squeamish about the idea of injecting vaccinations into their body.  Natural living begets natural living. And people who are vegetarians because they're suspicious of the meat industry would follow that they could also be suspicious of the medical community and pharmaceutical companies.  Again, when we're talking about an ideology as diverse as vegetarianism, it's hard to control for the multitude of factors that affect a person's health.

How do researchers know without testing for all these possibilities whether it's the diet causing the health issues or if certain health issues or mindsets that lead to the diet?  Without being able to account for a single set of foods comprising the vegetarian diet, since it's a diet of avoidance rather than acceptance, is it even possible to do a study comparing vegetarians to meat-eaters?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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