Vegetarian Diet Improves Mood Study Finds

Earlier studies have shown that people who consume fish have a better mental status as compared to vegetarians. This is because of the presence of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in the fish diet. These fatty acids help in better functioning of neurons in brain. The objective of this study was to compare the moods of vegetarians and omnivorous individuals. The authors conclude, “The vegetarian diet profile does not appear to adversely affect mood despite low intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.”

It is a known fact that vegetarians have better physical health compared to omnivorous individuals. So far, very few studies have been conducted to understand the mental well-being of vegetarians. It is suspected that because of lack of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of vegetarians, they may be more prone to psychological disturbances. The researchers hypothesized that short-chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as linolenic acid and linoleic acid present in high quantities in the vegetarian diet, would compensate for long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Hence, vegetarians also have the same level of mental health as compared to the fish-eating population.

* This study included 138 Seventh Day Adventist volunteers. Out of them, 64 were vegetarians and 79 were non-vegetarians.
* A food frequency questionnaire was distributed to all of them, to know the intake of various long-chain fatty acids in both the groups.
* Mood levels, anxiety, stress, and depression were assessed in all the participants, using questionnaires such as Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and Profile of Mood States.

* As expected, omnivorous volunteers consumed a higher amount of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids than did the vegetarians. But the consumption of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids was high in vegetarians.
* Mean depression, anxiety, and stress score was lower by more than half in vegetarians.
* Mood disturbances were also lower in vegetarians, as compared to the non-vegetarians. There was a positive relationship noted between the amount of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids consumed and mood disturbances.
* Gender impacted the total Profile of Mood State scores, with females scoring significantly higher than males.

Shortcomings/next steps
Most of the earlier studies, which compared the effects of vegetarian and fish diets, measured the levels of oxidative stress in the participants; this is an objective test. This was not done in the present experiment. Answers to questionnaires are subjective; hence, the measurements of oxidative stress are necessary to document the effects of any diet objectively. Besides, there is a need to find out the exact mechanism for improvement of mood in vegetarians. Also, fatty acid levels in the blood were not examined in the present experiment.

This study has shown that in spite of lower consumption of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vegetarians have better emotional control and mental balance than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians experience less tension, anxiety, depression, anger, confusion, and stress. This is contrary to the earlier studies, which showed that eating fish imparted better mental health. Short-chain omega-3 fatty acids and various antioxidants present in fresh vegetables are probably responsible for good mental health. Further studies assessing the effects of dietary modification in omnivores should be conducted. It is also necessary to find out the exact link between consumption of the vegetarian diet and improvements in the mood of a person.

For More Information:
Vegetarian Diets are Associated with Healthy Mood States
Publication Journal: Nutrition Journal, June 2010
By Bonnie Beezhold; Carol Johnston; Arizona State University, Mesa, Arizona

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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