Improving Mood through Diet

Improving Mood through Diet
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The purported role arachidonic acid plays in brain inflammation could explain why eliminating chicken, fish, and eggs may improve symptoms of mood disturbance, depression, anxiety, and stress within two weeks.

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In one of my videos last year, I reported on the finding that vegetarian men and women had significantly better scores on the Depression, Anxiety, Stress scale. Why were vegetarians significantly less depressed, anxious, and stressed than even healthy meat-eaters in this study?  “[N]egligible arachidonic acid intake may help explain the favorable mood profile observed with vegetarian diets.” As I talked about last year, this arachidonic acid stuff in our diet produces inflammatory compounds, which may inflame our brain.

The omnivores ate nine times as much arachidonic acid as the vegetarians—which is not surprising, given that arachidonic acid is not found in plants. That’s why vegetarians and vegans have significantly lower levels of arachidonic acid flowing though their bloodstream. In fact, you can even measure it right out of saliva. They found significantly lower levels of arachidonic acid in vegetarian drool.

This was a landmark study, but it was also just a cross-sectional study—a snapshot in time. To prove cause and effect, they really needed to do an interventional study. So, they did. Presented at the American Public Health Association conference, they took a bunch of meat-eaters, and split them up into three groups. The control group maintained regular intake of flesh foods. The second group ate fish, but no other meat, and the third was put on a vegetarian diet with no eggs. The whole study lasted only two weeks, but what do you think they found?

If it were primarily the saturated fat inflaming the omnivores’ brains, then the moods of both the veg and fish groups would presumably improve. If arachidonic acid were the culprit, then presumably only the veg group would feel significantly better.

This is the amount of arachidonic acid, in blue, consumed per day by the end of the study. The fish-eaters were eating a lot more of those long chain omega-3s, though—EPA and DHA—so, maybe they were protected, even though they were consuming all that arachidonic acid in fish. Or, maybe no one would experience a change in mood at all in such a short time frame—just two weeks. Sometimes it takes drugs months to have an effect.

Here’s what they found. In terms of psychological benefits, the egg-free vegetarian group significantly improved—meaning greater reductions in both the Depression, Anxiety, Stress scale and the Profile of Mood States—a measurement of mood disturbance. Though the no-poultry fish group did marginally better than the control group, the difference was not statistically significant.

Conclusion: “The complete restriction of flesh foods significantly reduced mood variability in omnivores….Our results suggest that a vegetarian diet can reduce mood variability in omnivores. Perhaps eating less meat can help protect mood in omnivores, particularly important in those susceptible to [mood] disorders.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

With kind appreciation to Dr. Beezhold for sharing her poster and paper.

In one of my videos last year, I reported on the finding that vegetarian men and women had significantly better scores on the Depression, Anxiety, Stress scale. Why were vegetarians significantly less depressed, anxious, and stressed than even healthy meat-eaters in this study?  “[N]egligible arachidonic acid intake may help explain the favorable mood profile observed with vegetarian diets.” As I talked about last year, this arachidonic acid stuff in our diet produces inflammatory compounds, which may inflame our brain.

The omnivores ate nine times as much arachidonic acid as the vegetarians—which is not surprising, given that arachidonic acid is not found in plants. That’s why vegetarians and vegans have significantly lower levels of arachidonic acid flowing though their bloodstream. In fact, you can even measure it right out of saliva. They found significantly lower levels of arachidonic acid in vegetarian drool.

This was a landmark study, but it was also just a cross-sectional study—a snapshot in time. To prove cause and effect, they really needed to do an interventional study. So, they did. Presented at the American Public Health Association conference, they took a bunch of meat-eaters, and split them up into three groups. The control group maintained regular intake of flesh foods. The second group ate fish, but no other meat, and the third was put on a vegetarian diet with no eggs. The whole study lasted only two weeks, but what do you think they found?

If it were primarily the saturated fat inflaming the omnivores’ brains, then the moods of both the veg and fish groups would presumably improve. If arachidonic acid were the culprit, then presumably only the veg group would feel significantly better.

This is the amount of arachidonic acid, in blue, consumed per day by the end of the study. The fish-eaters were eating a lot more of those long chain omega-3s, though—EPA and DHA—so, maybe they were protected, even though they were consuming all that arachidonic acid in fish. Or, maybe no one would experience a change in mood at all in such a short time frame—just two weeks. Sometimes it takes drugs months to have an effect.

Here’s what they found. In terms of psychological benefits, the egg-free vegetarian group significantly improved—meaning greater reductions in both the Depression, Anxiety, Stress scale and the Profile of Mood States—a measurement of mood disturbance. Though the no-poultry fish group did marginally better than the control group, the difference was not statistically significant.

Conclusion: “The complete restriction of flesh foods significantly reduced mood variability in omnivores….Our results suggest that a vegetarian diet can reduce mood variability in omnivores. Perhaps eating less meat can help protect mood in omnivores, particularly important in those susceptible to [mood] disorders.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

With kind appreciation to Dr. Beezhold for sharing her poster and paper.

Doctor's Note

For more on the health hazards of arachidonic acid, check out:
When Meat Can Be a Lifesaver
Titanium Dioxide & Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Fighting the Blues With Greens?

For information on the role that plant-based diets can play in improving mood, check out: Plant-Based Diet & Mood

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog posts: Harvard’s Meat and Mortality StudiesInflammation, Diet, and “Vitamin S”The Most Anti-Inflammatory MushroomHow To Boost Serotonin NaturallyTreating Crohn’s Disease With DietTop 10 Most Popular Videos of the YearSaffron vs. Prozac for DepressionThe Science on Açaí BerriesRaspberries Reverse Precancerous Lesions; and How Probiotics Affect Mental Health.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

63 responses to “Improving Mood through Diet

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  1. Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. For information on the role that plant-based diets can play in improving mood, check out my other video Plant-Based Diet & Mood. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!




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    1. Hi Dr. Greger! Why would my triglycerides be rising from a low 38 number to a higher 50 number consequent to my beginning a Whole Foods Plant Based diet? I do eat several pieces of fruit daily eating berries at least once a day. I am a woman in her sixties and am at a BMI of 25 now since losing 85 pounds a year ago. I am still losing more gradually now on your program. Thanks for that!




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      1. Chana,

        Awesome work on the weight loss…….. Your triglycerides would be higher do to the increased carbohydrate load (yes complex carbs) with the WFPB diet and of course the fruit. Would I worry about the triglycerides at the 50 mg/dl level…..nope.

        Keep up the great work and continue to lower your BMI…… and feel better.

        Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger http://www.Centerofhealth.com




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  2. I wonder about meat intake and the higher rate of depression for people with diabetes… Yet another reason to try the PCRM plant-based diet for people with diabetes? Cool it only takes 2 weeks to affect the mood – that’s LOTS faster than SSRI’s.




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  3. This video has perfect timing, I have suffered from depression and have been trying to stay off medication. This is week 2 of my vegan diet, for other reasons completely, but I have not felt any sadness or anxiety despite working full time and going to school full time! And I had three exams this week!




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  4. I suspect there are other studies that would evidence psychiatric metrics improving with statistical significance with higher consumption of n3 long-chain fatty acids (from fish). Dietary lipids seem to present many paradoxes.




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  5. I’m so glad to see this study. I have direct of experience of seeing someone who went vegan and, after 4 years, has not had any bouts of depression which had been frequent for her previous to going vegan. It wasn’t something she was expecting but a fantastic side benefit!




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  6. I went on a rawfood/vegan diet 2 yrs old, and many health issues went away. But the nice thing was my mood/depression that went away. If I added bad foods back on in my diet, I quickly started to feel depressed. Now, this video explains it. I’m NOT crazy after all! Woo-hoo! I’ll stay on raw foods/vegan for life. Oh, my thyroid med was dropped from a high 180 mcg (amour) to 40! Yay!
    Allison
    NC




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    1. Hello Lance,

      Although consuming excess arachadonic acid is harmful, there is significantly more harm in fish oil compared with algae oil. Please check out the following videos.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/food-sources-of-pcb-chemical-pollutants/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/is-distilled-fish-oil-toxin-free/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/ddt-in-fish-oil-supplements/
      http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/plant-based-omega-3-supplements-2/

      I am not an advocate of consuming any oil since oil is essentially liquid fat with no nutrition. According to Dr. McDougall, “a condition of ‘essential fatty acid deficiency’ is essentially unknown in free-living populations….true essential fatty acid deficiency would result in: loss of hair, scaly dermatitis, capillary fragility, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to infection, fatty liver, and growth retardation in infants and children.” Here is the full article http://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/aug/oils.htm Although the algae oil may have the DHA, oil is still oil and not a whole plant food. I respect Dr. Greger’s statement of avoiding fish oil for its many contaminants and using algae oil as a substitute but is it really necessary to ingest any pure DHA in the form of an oil? After weighing it out, to me, it doesn’t seem necessary.




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      1. Toxins, do you consider the oil in corn chips (they fry the chips with sunflower, safflower, and or canola oil) to constitute as a “free oil”, no longer a whole plant food once the oil has been extracted from the, say, sunflower seed? Or would the cooking of the sunflower oil into the corn flour make it somehow OK now? I am not an advocate of corn chips and the like, but the idea of extracted oils from plants and then re-combining them/cooking them into other plants, has me curious what your personal stance is on these sort of foods. Do you ever consume corn chips, taco shells, other products that have free oils cooked into them? Thanks for any insight, Toxins. And I do wonder if there is any “science” on this topic.




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  7. That is so interesting, and impressive. I wish I had been at that conference to hear the reaction of the medical attendees. I wonder… would giving up meat etc lead to decreased guilt over eating animals, and increased moral contentment [subconscious or not] and this be a mechanism for the improved mental health, rather than just physical and chemical body changes. I suspect it might be ..both!




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  8. Interesting but it seems biased. You can read many reports on the web of people eating a paleo diet (which includes meat and animal fat) and better health and mood.




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        1. The paleo diet advocates high meat intake as well as vegetables and rejects complex carbohydrates such as beans and grains. Perhaps you have hybridized it. Nonetheless, high meat intake is by no credible standard healthy.




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          1. The paleo diet diet does NOT advocate high meat intake. People following a paleo diet should be consuming the same amount of meat as other omnivores, substituting vegetables and fruits for grains and legumes. It is not a high protein, or low carb, diet.




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            1. Ivy: Your post was actually pretty helpful to me. It helped to highlight for me where the problem is when communicating with proponents of the paleo diet. I believe that this is the key part is in defining what “high” means. Ie: “… NOT advocate high meat intake. … consuming the same amount of meat as other omnivores…”

              What we have learned on this site and from the many other experts in nutrition is that what “other omnivores” eat is very much high meat intake. It may not seem that way because you see lots of other people in your culture consuming such high amounts. But if you compare to what the science says is healthy, you can see that pushing such levels of meat intake is indeed a very high meat intake. So, if the paleo diet is pushing people to eat the same amount of meat as their peers, that is actually high meat intake.

              What I take from this is: the communication issue can be in understanding what “high” means. We once had someone post on NutritionFacts that he ate 50% of his diet from meat. And that seemed like a ballanced diet to him. Ie, it didn’t seem like high meat intake. Yikes.

              If you want to learn more about why meat is so unhealthy and why grains and legumes are so very healthy, this site is a great place to start.




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    1. I think you’ll find you can find just about anything online. That’s why controlled studies like this, and the field of scientific inquiry in general, are so important.




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  9. It would help if you put links to the studies.

    If fish eaters also improved, it is not the meat but maybe the fat that is a problem. If I understood correctly there is a mention of saturated fat increasing arachidonic acid. So the problem is not sure to be animal protein.

    Also, how is “flesh food” defined? Lean cuts, pastured animals, cow, poultry, free range, sausages, hamburgers with french fries, fast food, fried food using corn or other high omega 6 oils?

    I want to know more this issue of inflammation is very important. Thanks for pointing it out




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    1. Gabriel Check out the sources cited section, all the studies are hyperlinked.

      Also, omega 6 gets converted to Arachadonic acid so perhaps the higher omega 3 content of fish balances this out.




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  10. Is it important for vegetarians to have omega 3 EPA supplements? My son’s doctor has recommended he take an EPA supplement to help with mood, but the studies cited in this video seem to imply that EPA is important mainly to counteract the arachodonic acid. If this is the case, would EPA be critical to the mood of someone who is vegetarian?

    Thank you so much for all the information you provide on this website!




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  11. My 12-year-old son’s doctor has recommended that he take a supplement with EPA (and DHA) to help with mood issues. I have found an expensive supplement derived from yeast that provides the suggested amount of EPA, but I was wondering if it is likely to help my son.   Your video on mood shows that EPA is important to counteract arachidonic acid in meat-eaters, but is it likely to affect mood in vegans or vegetarians as well?  Would high dose EPA supplements be unnecessary for vegans and vegetarians since they do not have the same build-up of arachidonic acid?




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  12. those guys who switched to vegan diet were just high from knowing they are real vegans now. adventists are high all the time from being adventists (only half joke here).




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  13. Hmm, I eat plant based, but still have ocassional meat and eggs. I will try complete vegetarian for 2 weeks, see how I feel. Hope my teeth don’t suffer, since eating fats and animal foods help avoid carb rich foods like rice, tubers, bread and corn. This will mean upping my fruit intake, as well as my rice and tuber intake. I dont get full on green vegetables alone.




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  14. I am one of the most stressed people I know and suffering from depression all my life , and I have been a vegetarian all my life and since five years a vegan. So I don’t know if this is true. I have been thinking to start eating fish again for the omega 3




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    1. This is why we don’t take individual stories as proof in science.. Or we’d be listening to the 1 smoker who lived to 80 or 100 telling us it’s ok to smoke.. We look for the patterns amongst lots of people.. While also trying to understand anomalies..

      It doesn’t mean no vegans/vegos ever get depressed (this was just a 2 week study..) or have mood problems and so on..? Or maybe you have too much stress or need to relax or eat better even if you’re vegan? How much sleep do you get? Exercise? How busy are you and so on? There could be all sorts of confounding issues in your life? Also don’t know your genetics and the role they play here..

      May still be a bell curve effect where the average mood is better amongst vegans/vegos than omnivores for example but still they lie on a bell curve and maybe you’re not affected much since you’re still at 1 end of the bell curve? There will be some omnivores who have better moods than vegans for example..?




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  15. Extracted from Wikipedia:

    Brain
    Arachidonic acid is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain, and is present in similar quantities to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The two account for approximately 20% of its fatty acid content.[12] Like DHA, neurological health is reliant upon sufficient levels of arachidonic acid. Among other things, arachidonic acid helps to maintain hippocampal cell membrane fluidity.[13] It also helps protect the brain from oxidative stress by activating peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma.[14] ARA also activates syntaxin-3 (STX-3), a protein involved in the growth and repair of neurons.[15]

    Arachidonic acid is also involved in early neurological development. In one study funded by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, infants (18 months) given supplemental arachidonic acid for 17 weeks demonstrated significant improvements in intelligence, as measured by the Mental Development Index.[16] This effect is further enhanced by the simultaneous supplementation of ARA with DHA.

    In adults, the disturbed metabolism of ARA contributes to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Bipolar disorder.[17] This involves significant alterations in the conversion of arachidonic acid to other bioactive molecules (overexpression or disturbances in the ARA enzyme cascade).

    Alzheimer’s disease
    Studies on arachidonic acid and the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease is mixed with one study of AA and its metabolites suggests they are associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,[18] whereas another study suggests that the supplementation of arachidonic acid during the early stages of this disease may actually be effective in reducing symptoms and slowing the disease progress.[19] Additional studies on arachidonic acid supplementation for Alzheimer’s patients are needed.

    Dr. Greger, it seems like some arachidonic acid is necessary for the brain to function optimally. Please share your thoughts on this.




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  16. Typically, I avoid meat. Occasionally, I eat animal products. If I eat only complex carbs for a week or so, I feel sacked. No energy, hard to get motivated. It is common for me to eat 85% chocolate. When down, a bag of Oreos or a plate of white spaghetti seems to rally me. What is wrong? Why don’t I get more energized when consuming complex carbs? Thanks.




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    1. What complex carbs are you consuming and how are they prepared? I find it rather interesting that whole wheat pasta makes you feel ill while white pasta does not.




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      1. Whole wheat pasta=gluten. From Wikipedia: Symptoms (of gluten intolerance) include bloating, abdominal discomfort or pain, diarrhea, constipation, muscular disturbances, headaches, migraines, severe acne, fatigue, and bone or joint pain.




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        1. White pasta has plenty of gluten too. White pasta is stripped of the bran but the endosperm still contains plenty of protein, thats what makes my question of interest.




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    2. Vic Werlhof: Toxins asks a good question and makes an excellent point. I have another idea for you: Perhaps you are not getting enough calories? I had a friend who switched to a vegan diet, but she was eating a lot of veggies. Those filled her up and she wasn’t getting enough calories. Her symptoms were that she got weak and shaky. I suggested that she add some nuts and seeds to her diet, plus some avocado, and that has completely fixed her problem. She feels great now.

      This idea of adding more calorie-dense foods (but cutting out the junk!) might work for you since you say that eating chocolate and oreos helps. Those would be calorie-packed – but of course, not healthy. I imagine your plate of white spaghetti “rallies you” because it is a simple carb that goes straight to your blood and you feel that at least temporarily.

      I’m not an expert, but I hope that idea gives you something to work with. Good luck.




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  17. It needs to be made clear that this study was done on people with diabetes 2.

    It is interesting that typically in Arctic populations their diet is heavily meat based, especially during the dark season, and it is common to have a high amount of people with depression in the Arctic. But the depression is thought to be from the darkness, not the high consumption of meat. Meat, in fact, is thought to give energy and vitality. Reindeer meat is extremely high in saturated fat but is said to be as good as eating fish.

    http://sciencenordic.com/reindeer-meat-healthy-fish

    I do find that a lot of studies on food do not consider the environmental factors on humans when examining diet.

    Cheers




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    1. “Meat, in fact, is thought to give energy and vitality” -> yes for those who don’t mind living shorter lives.. E.g. for people in the arctic with nothing else to eat, it helps them live to 30 – 60 years of age which is better than dying of starvation much younger.. But the Eskimos/Inuits are dying younger than other populations as a result of their diets :( This is a way to survive. Not thrive and live a long life.. If you’re curious: Eskimos have a shorter life expectancy, higher rates of strokes and atherosclerosis and so on.. Check out this vid here from Dr.Greger where he goes through the research studies/data: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LvGiiZyn-M

      Even 1000 year old Eskimo mummies show atherosclerosis as he explains in the video. Which is pretty crazy!




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  18. Two of 11 dependent variables related to mood improved significantly more in the vegan group. I’m all for a vegan diet, but let’s not make too much of this. Behavioral treatments for depression and anxiety are safe and effective.




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  19. I have to say the my plant based diet has super increased my energy. Why is this important. With super increased energy it is very difficult for me to have a bad mood. It is just not happening.




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    1. What kind of B12 do you use, if I might ask? What form, and how often? You seem to have some good insights and revelations on this website. Sublingual or swallowed with food?




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      1. When I do supplement, which may be 3-4 out of a month, I use a vegan sublingual B12supplement by DEVA. I eat a lot of raw food and I think some B12 has to remain on them because supplementing so little my B12 are 3/4 of the max recommended. Thank you very much for the complement. I am humbled. I just came from the boxing gym and I am outworking 25 year old kids, and I am 47. They can’t believe how old I am, and that does make me feel good. All praise to the Creator of Life for my enlightenment.




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  20. I have suffered from depression on and off since I was 14. I switched to a plant based diet over 2 years ago. I have since had a episode of major depression during a very stressful period (watching my father die being the main stressor) and had people try to tell me that my vegan diet might be partly responsible for my mood. So it is reassuring to know that if anything it is doing the opposite and helping to keep me mentally healthy. And that if I continue to eat this way and do all the other things I know I should such as regular exercise and changing the thought patterns/habits that can lead me down that black hole I have chance to beat depression permanently.




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    1. Alicia: It sounds like you are doing absolutely everything you can to help yourself. I agree, from everything I have seen, your diet is only helping you. Best of luck. I hope it is only uphill from here.




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    2. Sorry to hear about your dad. :( A plant based diet can’t stop horrible things happening to us. But it can help us ensure food isn’t a cause of mood issues. Though food/genetics could still be a problem for some people?

      But combine diet with exercise, mindfulness and meditation and stuff, community, support, purpose and so on and do all the things the longest living populations (those in the Blue Zones) are doing and I’m sure you too will love to a long, healthy age and hopefully happily too? I can’t imagine people could live to 100+ if their lives were miserable? Their diets too are mostly plant based with meat eaten in tiny quantities or saved for special ocassions..

      Was watching this vid earlier today about aging and Dr.Greger mentioned how vegetarians had more of an enzyme or something that helps us age better which matches up with the diet of these people in the Blue Zones who eat mostly plant based! http://nutritionfacts.org/video/mitochondrial-theory-of-aging

      Good luck :) Hope you live a happy, healthy life and do lots of good for others and for the environment/this planet? :)




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  21. I have type 2 diabetes. For the past 10 years, I have been able to control it with just diet, exercise and wine. The diet was a low carb diet with lots of chicken, eggs and fish. Several months ago, I started a whole foods vegan diet which I feel has had a very positive effect on my mood and emotionality. My glucose readings, however, have now become wildly erratic. I want to stick with a vegan diet so I started 1,000 mg of metformin per day, which I have now upped to 1,500. I’m still getting some very high readings, especially in the mornings. Would it be better to stick with a vegan diet and try to control the glucose spikes with drugs or to try to control the spikes by adding more protein to my diet in the form of egg whites and organic grass fed beef?




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    1. DS: Good for you for taking your health into your own hands.

      Concerning controlling Type 2 diabetes, I highly recommend that you get the book, “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes: The scientifically proven system for reversing diabetes without drugs”. That book will help you understand the details of what a whole plant food vegan diet should look like in order to stabilize and reverse your T2 diabetes. The back of the book even includes recipes. So, you can know exactly what the diet should consist of.

      http://www.amazon.com/Neal-Barnards-Program-Reversing-Diabetes/dp/1594868107/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412711612&sr=1-1&keywords=barnard+diabetes

      Bottom line: You should not need any animal products at all. According to Dr. Barnard’s clinical trials, people did best without them.

      Hope that helps!




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  22. My understanding is that peanut butter has a lot of arachidonic acid. I am wondering if it should be on the “use sparingly” list?




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  23. What do you make of all the articles that keep getting written about ‘vegetarians having more anxiety and depression’, then? among several alarming anecdotal articles (which I know not to take seriously as they are individual cases) a couple of observational studies are being thrown around that imply vegetarians and vegans are more likely to have mental illness and too many people are taking them seriously as fact and I find it worrisome.

    This is the main study I see a lot

    http://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-9-67

    I recognize though that surveys like this are not as indicative of anything as an actual controlled study (not do they address causes), but I would like some opinions. Arguing with some hardheaded people had become troublesome.




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    1. Nalani: Some thoughts:

      1) There is at least one facility treating people with severe depression using a plant based diet. Consider the bio of this speaker from a talk I heard last year: “Neil Nedley, MD, directs the world’s most comprehensive program for depression and anxiety recovery, utilizing nutrition and lifestyle modalities to alleviate these mental illnesses. His program also greatly enhances general intelligence and emotional intelligence. Dr. Nedley is the author of three books, including Proof Positive: How to Reliably Combat Disease and Achieve Optimal Health Through Nutrition and Lifestyle, and also an 8-part DVD Workbook Series that is used extensively in mental health education programs throughout the U.S. and other countries. nedleyhealthsolutions.com”

      2) People who switch to vegan diets often do so *because* they have a problem of some kind that they either consciously or subconsciously wish would help them. For example, it is not at all uncommon for someone to switch to a vegan diet after getting a cancer diagnosis. A survey of people and their diets might show that more people who eat vegan have cancer. But that kind of survey, as you seem to know, tells us nothing about cause and effect. I could totally see a person who has a mental health problem (either a known or unknown problem) giving a vegetarian diet a try. That doesn’t mean that the vegetarian diet caused the mental health problem.

      3) Many vegetarian diets are not healthy. Such diets contain lots of dairy and eggs (animal protein and fat) as well as processed plant foods. It would not surprise me if such unhealthy diets had a mental health impact. However, eating a whole plant food based (WPFB) diet is a healthy diet and as Dr. Greger shows here on NutritionFacts, has some good science to back up its positive impact on mental health.

      4) Anecdotes to counteract anecdotes: People on this site report great feeling of well being when being on a whole plant food based diet. As you seem to know from your comment, anecdotes are not science.

      Does this help?




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      1. Yes, thank you. I have a lot of opinions and knowledge but no one to discuss it with and a lot of self doubt. When I see people say things with conviction, even if I can point out flaws, I tend to worry about my stance and it makes me a lousy debater but I’m trying to work on it. I still feel the need for second opinions a lot though, especially with so many differing studies and articles out there. I’m still learning to be able to tell what makes a good study a good study.




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        1. Nalani: re: “I’m still learning to be able to tell what makes a good study a good study.”
          That’s a tough one! Most people (including myself by and large) never get that far.
          .
          There is a whole lot of ignorance out there. And as you say, it is flouted with conviction. My 2 cents is that sometimes it is worth while to “fight the good fight” as it might sow a seed of growth in someone, even if just a by-stander. But that kind of thing can sap your energy. I prefer to spend most of my time helping people who actually want to be helped. This site is a great place to do that. Feel free to stick around. ;-)




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    2. I said this to someone else but I’ll say it here too: A plant based diet can’t stop horrible things happening to us. But it can help us ensure food isn’t a cause of mood issues. Though food/genetics could still be a problem for some people?

      But combine diet with exercise, mindfulness and meditation and stuff, community, support, purpose and so on and do all the things the longest living populations (those in the Blue Zones) are doing and I’m sure you too will love to a long, healthy age and hopefully happily too? I can’t imagine people could live to 100+ if their lives were miserable? Their diets too are mostly plant based with meat eaten in tiny quantities or saved for special occasions.. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me..

      Was watching this vid earlier today about aging and Dr.Greger mentioned how vegetarians had more of an enzyme or something that helps us age better which matches up with the diet of these people in the Blue Zones who eat mostly plant based! http://nutritionfacts.org/video/mitochondrial-theory-of-aging

      Good luck :) Hope you live a happy, healthy life and do lots of good for others and for the environment/this planet? :)




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  24. Just a curious question — how can you explain studies that showed that people on a vegetarian diet displayed higher levels of depression, anxiety and self-esteem issues? What does one have to factor in when it comes to studying people and their mental health? Their reason of being vegetarian/vegan? How they approach the lifestyle? Someone please clarify. No bashing, please!




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    1. Sara Tan: For people to be able to comment, you would have to link to the study(ies) you are thinking of. Without seeing any details, I can share an idea with you that has applied in similar situations. Some people have pointed to studies showing that low cholesterol is linked to depression. We know that when people get various diseases, their cholesterol levels can go down. But it is the disease that causes the cholesterol levels to go down, not low cholesterol levels that cause disease. There is no controversy on this point.
      .
      So, when it comes to depression/mood, does low cholesterol cause depression or does depression cause low cholesterol? I don’t think we know for sure, but here is a quote from Healthy Longevity: “In regards to depressive symptoms, a recent review of clinical trials found that cholesterol lowering statins are associated with improvements in mood scores. Furthermore, several clinical trials have found that vegetarian diets, also known to lower serum cholesterol have favorable effects on measures of mood and stress.”
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3568015/
      http://www.nutritionj.com/content/11/1/9
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=8205407
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3783150
      .
      While you are are talking about vegetarian diets in general, and not necessarily lower cholesterol, it’s my guess that any study that shows such a link is likely to be a similar case of “reverse causation”. Someone who is already depressed or likely to experience depression may be more likely to try a vegetarian diet to try to help themselves. That doesn’t mean that the vegetarian diet caused the depression.
      .
      Does that help?




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