Human health is the result of diverse lines of behavior concerning their activity, health care, and nutrition. The last one has the greatest meaning than the others because the food is the sources of nutrients that could support the sustainable functioning f the human body or, vice verse, violate the natural course of the processes. If the appearing of the physical diseases seems to be, predictable mental disorders are less expected to be caused by nutrition habits. Moreover, existing types of diets that exist in modern life, such as vegetarianism, are considered as healthy lifestyle aimed at improving the physical and mental state of the person. However, the question about the real aftermaths of such nutrition habits remains rather controversial. The paper seeks to analyze the studies seeking the answer to the question whether the vegetarians are at greater risk for eating disorders. Based on this analysis the recommendations on the issue for medical practitioners and ideas for the future research would be proposed.
Eating disorders belong to mental disorders with the higher rates of mortality. 10 % of deaths occurs only because of anorexia nervosa (AN) that is one of the eating disorders' type. The looking for the reasons that cause this disease becomes the most actual direction on researching. Findings rather often lead to the question of vegetarianism whose controversial essence causes a lot of stereotypes and opposite treatments of existing facts. Thus, diverse evidence shows that among the patients with AN about 50% report following the vegetarian diet when other studies admit that this indicator inherent to the small minority of the vegetarians with the AN (6%). Anyhow, the culture of nutrition is inextricably linked with the human health, and there are a lot of confirmations. Vegetarianism is a significant part of the culture in numerous Eastern countries where one-third part of population restricts eating meat, and any of evident risks was not noticed. However, Western people perceive the vegetarianism as the threat, and the rate of vegetarians confirm it (1,6% vegetarians in German, 3 % in the USA and the UK. Thus, the interrelation between the vegetarian diet and state of human health is rather evident but the character of this link is still completely unknown.
In the current literature review, I will focus on the comparing the health state of vegetarians and people who do not follow such diet to found whether vegetarianism indeed creates an additional threat to the human health or there no reasons for medical alarm. I will review the results of three studies that joint together because of their diverse perspectives that help to show the issue fully. Based on this review, I will make recommendations for practitioners seeking the relevant approach to the work with vegetarian patients or those who needs the vegetarian diet because of health. I will also discuss the ideas for the future research that may bring modern and more accurate results on the issue
The first article was conducted by Burkert and colleagues whose study was aimed at analyzing the health-related differences between the groups following diverse dietary habits. The authors managed to involve in their study 1320 Austrian adults whom they from the Austrian Health Interview Survey (AT-HIS). All they were differentiated into four groups due to the diet’s type: Vegetarian, a carnivorous diet rich in fruits and vegetables, carnivorous diet less rich in meat, and a carnivorous diet rich in meat. The author used face-to-face conversation for interviewing each of groups that consisted of 330 dietary behavior’s representatives. Participants should answer the question about their socio-demographic characteristics, health-related behavior, diseases, medical treatments, and psychological aspects. Moreover, the authors used Chi-square tests to analyze the presence of chronic conditions.
In their analysis, Burkert and colleagues found that vegetarians state of health is rather poorer compared to the each of the other dietary groups. Besides, the rate of mental health diseases such as depression and anxiety is significantly higher than in the other groups. Thus, 9,4% vegetarians complain about the mental illness, when the same indicator for the group 2 is 4,8 %, for the group 3 – 5,8% and the group 4 – 4,5 %. Based on their analysis, the authors made the conclusion that Austrian adults who followed the vegetarian diet were less healthy and should be at the greater risk of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders. Authors also admitted the limitations of their study: missing the aspect explaining whether the vegetarian diet influence the health or the illnesses made the participants follow the diet.
The second article by the Bardone-Cone and colleagues addressed mentioned the limitation of Burkert and colleagues. They compared the persons with and without a history of eating disorders, participants at diverse stages of recovery related to the eating disorders, on past and current vegetarianism and motivation to follow the diet and the age of becoming vegetarian. There were two groups of participants (160 women) involving in the study. The first group with the history of disorders consisted of females who were the patients of the University o Missouri Pediatric and Adolescent Specialty Clinic. Another group without disorders included the sample from the campus of the University and clinic (individual having no eating disorders). Participants provided the needed information during interviewing, including the clinical interview. To examine the issue, the authors used the Chi-square tests, analysis of variance and covariance.
In their analysis, the Bardone-Cone and colleagues found that significantly more persons with the eating disorder history reported being vegetarian in compare to those who have no experience of disorders. However, the sample with the history of the eating disorders claims that problems preceded their adoption of a diet. It allows suggest that vegetarianism is not the reason for them. The author concluded that history of vegetarianism had no relation to the status of recovery. The authors mentioned the following limitations of their study: cross-sectional approach, the small size of the sample and lack of disorder diagnoses’ differentiation.
The third research devoted to the association between vegetarianism and mental disorders was carried out by Michalak and collogues. It differs from the previous two studies with its scale and detail investigating of diseases perspectives that the other authors mentioned as the limitation in the Bardone-Cone and colleagues article. Moreover, it is the first that investigated mentioned association in a representative adult sample and used standardized assessment of DSM-IV mental disorders. Thus, 4,181 participants were involved in the research. The authors drew them from the German Health Interview and Examination Survey and its Mental Health Supplement’s sample.
The authors found that participants reported elevated rates of mental disorders and strong association between eating disorders and vegetarian diet was noticed in a small number of individuals. Because of matching procedure, the vegetarian's characteristics could not explain the results. Michalak and collogues made the conclusion that there is no evidence for a casual role of vegetarianism in the etiology of mental disorders. The one-item measuring of the vegetarian diets the authors consider the primary limitation to their study.
The results of the three articles did not provide the evident confirmation of the inevitable aftermaths of vegetarian diet they rather raised the new aspects that need further investigations. Taking into account, that vegetarianism has a lot of individual aspects and controversial moments that remained unfound, I would recommend that parishioners prescribe the diet based on the substantial analysis of previous diseases. Those who wish to prefer the vegetarianism as the way of life they should provide with relevant nutrition education because the reason for the eating disorders often lay on the incorrect practicing of diet, not by itself.
The analyzed studies have the numerous limitation related to the core essence of the vegetarianism and its types and the way of determining its influence on the mental health. Thus, future research should be based on investigating the nutrients and minerals that people loose restricting the eating of meat and other animal products and what changes in body’s functioning this deficit may cause. Only such biological approach may shed the light on the issue.
After all, analyzed studies did not give the single and accurate answer on the analyzed issue. The majority of the authors agreed that the vegetarian diet could not be the reason for the eating disorder by itself but at the same time they emphasized the numerous significant aspects need investigation in future. Anyhow, everyone should remember that all actions should be balanced and held in the appropriate measures. All that goes beyond the measure is the threat. Thus, that all the risks people prescribe to the vegetarian diet are caused by such overcoming the allowed limits. In this concern, another question appears whether the mental diseases go first or vegetarian diet.