Are you tired and depressed?
If you are, don’t despair – because I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be. The problem might not be ‘all in your head’, as they say. In fact, it could actually be in your gut!
But to know for sure, we need to take a look at what’s on your plate. Or, more accurately, we need to look at what’s not on your plate – and therefore not going into your body. I’m talking about meat!
Now, I know that many people would joke that what makes them happy is bacon… a juicy steak… or some spicy, saucy baby back ribs. But it turns out that there might actually be some truth to that – because you need meat for your digestive health.
And you need it for your brain health, too! So, I’m excited to alert you about a soon-to-be-published study that links a meat-free lifestyle (vegan or vegetarian) to depression. This somewhat shocking, startling, and ground-breaking research not only offers insight into the dangers of certain diets and the root causes of depression… but it also sheds some light on the importance of vitamins and minerals to both your digestive health and your mental health.
What’s more, it gives credence to my favourite approach to eating, the proteinrich Paleo diet.
So, here’s what you need to know about what these scientists found… plus, of course, a healthy dose of my interpretation of their study.
These latest findings are a true testament to the powers of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids – let alone the paramount importance of your dietary choices!
Spare the cow… spoil your mood?
For the study, which is slated to be published in the January 2018 edition of the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers from the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH)
questioned 9,500 men who were either vegetarian or vegan.
And guess what? It turns out that living this lifestyle isn’t doing much of anything except making these guys significantly more depressed!
Why? As the authors of the study suggest, you can blame nutritional deficiencies. I check levels of vitamins and minerals in my patients on a daily basis, and I see lower levels of vitamins like B12 and minerals like iron in vegetarians all the time.
However, I wish the authors of this study had dug a bit deeper into the subject of deficiencies – because vitamin B12 and iron might be obvious candidates to be depleted in someone who doesn’t eat meat, but what about all the other vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that meat-eaters get from animal products?
There are, in fact, other crucial nutrients in meat-based foods that most vegetarians cannot get, including: creatine, DHA (a form of omega 3), carnosine, taurine, vitamin D, zinc, and choline.
They all have amazing effects on the brain and body – and, along with vitamin B12 and iron, they do a lot more than just help your mood. In fact, I think that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of which benefits most people get from these protein sources – because we know that deficiencies in the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids found in meat can cause a ton of other disturbing symptoms.
You could feel fatigued or be unable to fall asleep, and you could experience anxiety, numbness and tingling, or brain fog. Your hair could even fall out.
Skip the doctor and see a butcher instead
Thus, I’m going to ‘one-up’ the authors of this study by adding my own hypothesis into the mix: The other reason that vegetarianism can lead to depression is because meat products are a better and more efficient source of amino acids than plant-based foods.
And there’s a very good reason why you need amino acids to beat back the blues – because these protein-based building blocks are directly involved in how your body makes the main brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that control your feelings of depression.
And, since your body can’t make them on its own, you need to eat meat to get them!
There are two main amino acids that are essential for your mood: phenylalanine and tryptophan.
Phenylalanine starts the process of how your body makes the three neurotransmitters directly responsible for motivation, focus, and sense of well-being: dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
Tryptophan is directly responsible for the production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ that helps your brain deal with stress. And it’s worth noting that tryptophan works directly on the same brain chemical that’s targeted by many of the most common antidepressant drugs (such as Prozac).
A word of caution before popping ‘happy pills’
Unfortunately, if you tell your primary care doctor and/ or psychiatrist about your feelings of depression, he’ll likely throw an antidepressant medication at you before (or without) really considering other possibilities, such as your diet… your vitamin, amino acid, or mineral levels… hormone status… thyroid levels… or sleep quality.
Even though all you might need is a little nutrition in the form of supplements… or meat! I hope that if you or a loved one has chosen a vegetarian or vegan approach to eating… and you’ve experienced depression you can’t otherwise explain… you take this new study to heart and look at ways to optimize your vitamin B12 and iron levels.
I should note, however, that not all nutrients are created equal – and there are some definite nuances you have to consider when supplementing with both vitamin B12 and iron.
There are only a few nutraceuticals that you really should be careful with – and, unfortunately, iron is one of them. In fact, not everyone needs iron – and if you take too much of it, you can overdose on it and do some harm to your body.
That’s why you should only take iron as advised by your doctor (ideally one well-versed in integrative medicine), who should check your iron levels regularly to make sure you’re not getting too much.
Vitamin B12, however, is a very safe vitamin to take. In fact, there’s really no such thing as having ‘too high’ of a vitamin B12 level on a blood test – no matter what your conventional doctor might tell you if it comes back from the lab as ‘elevated’.
Now, amino acids are another matter. You can supplement them – in fact, you can find both phenylalanine and tryptophan on their own, as well as part of various formulas to support sleep, mood,
and the brain.
You can even find tryptophan in some plant proteins. But the healthiest, most efficient way to get those amino acids – PLUS all the other nutrients you need – is to incorporate a generous amount of animal protein in your diet, just like our cavemen ancestors did.
After all, folks who adopt them Paleo diet – with all of its rich sources of animal protein – are rarely devoid of iron, vitamin B12, or amino acids. And I don’t yet know of any studies that show a correlation between carnivores (or omnivores) and depression.
Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.