Can meat make you happy?
Meat makes me a better person. I can say that unequivocally on the basis that not having meat makes me feral. Not just any flesh. Red meat. Preferably lamb chops. They seem to restore balance and order to my universe. Although given a lack of coffee, coconut, and chocolate all tend to have the same effect on me, perhaps I am giving too much credence to the meat? Primal foods beginning with “C”, perhaps?
Based on two recent papers, you might just have to make a choice as to where meat features in your life. On the one hand, eating too much of it may just send you to an early death via heart disease, cancer, or maybe just a T-bone stuck in your throat. The bestest epidemiological mind on the planet suggests you limit your red meat intake to once to twice PER YEAR, if immortality is your end game [2FF]. On the other hand, a recent study reported in the Letter to the Editor section of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, suggests that, for women at least, red meat consumption is associated with less depression and anxiety…
Since 2009 there has been increasing evidence of a relationship between habitual diet quality and depression and anxiety. In two of our studies we reported that women with higher scores on a dietary pattern characterised by fruit, vegetables, beef, lamb, whole grains and fish (‘traditional’) were less likely to have anxiety or major depressive, dysthymic or bipolar disorders…
…Moreover, there are published studies from Australia and Scandinavia reporting that vegetarians and/or low meat consumers have poorer mental health than those who habitually eat meat, although the direction of the relationship between vegetarian status and mental health is unclear.
I do like the last statement there. What it suggests is that we are presently unsure whether eschewing meat leaves you with a few sheep loose in the top paddock, or whether by being as mad as a bag of cats means you are less likely to eat meat.
With those previous observations in mind, the authors set out to further examine the relationship between red meat consumption and mood and anxiety disorders. Using the database from the Geelong Osteoporosis Study, the authors were able to examine the diet history of just over 1000 women for whom they had full dietary and psychiatric data over 10 years of follow-up.
Australian dietary guidelines recommend intakes for red meat (beef and lamb) of 3–4 serves per week, with a serve defined as 65–100 g. Thus, intakes of red meat were categorised as low <28 g/day, recommended 28–57 g/day, and high >57 g/day. We used the aforementioned ‘traditional’ dietary pattern score from our previous study as a measure of overall healthy diet.
Clinical interviews (DSM-IV-TR) were used in conjunction with self-reporting questionnaires (GHQ-12) for depressive and anxiety disorders and psychological symptoms. Socioeconomic status, education level, physical activity, alcohol consumption, smoking status, total energy intake, and body mass index data were all also available, with these variables tested as potential confounding factors or effect modifiers. Nineteen women were identified as being vegetarian and all the data was analysed both including and excluding these women.
In this study, 60 women were identified with a current MDD or dysthymia and 80 were identified with a current anxiety disorder. The median dietary intake of red meat was 39.3 g/day (interquartile range 19.8–61.7). In multivariable logistic regression analyses, the only identified confounder was age. No effect modifiers were identified. For those women consuming less than the recommended intake of red meat per week, the odds for MDD/ dysthymia were more than doubled compared to those consuming the recommended intakes. Similarly, those women with low red meat consumption were nearly twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder. Adjusting for ‘traditional’ dietary pattern scores resulted in a strengthening of the relationship between high meat intake and these variables.
The authors saw no relationship between high red meat intakes and the self-reported psychological symptom scores. Neither did they note any association between the intake of chicken, pork, processed meats, or plant proteins and any mental health outcomes. There were no observed differences between the vegetarian and non-vegetarian women in any of the factors examined. And exclusion of the vegetarians from the analysis made little difference to the relationship between red meat and mental health.
In this study, we report that women habitually consuming less than the recommended intake of red meat were more likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder than those consuming the recommended amount. Moreover, those consuming more than the recommended amount of red meat were also more likely to have a depressive disorder once overall diet quality was taken into account. Low meat consumption also tended to be associated with increased psychological symptoms. These associations were independent of measured socioeconomic factors and other health behaviours, including the quality of the overall diet.
In our study, there were no differences between meat eaters and vegetarians on age, socioeconomic factors, health behaviours, BMI or overall energy intake. Moreover, exclusion of the 19 people identified as vegetarian made little difference to our findings. This reduces the possibility that demographic or lifestyle differences relating to vegetarianism account for the observed inverse relationships.
Interestingly, if consuming more meat than recommended was not part of the “Traditional” dietary pattern, then depressive disorders increased. But not if this increased consumption was part of that traditional pattern.
The authors did highlight the limitations within their study, chiefly the cross-sectional nature of its design, and the potential for residual confounders such as socio-demographic factors and/or other health behaviours associated with certain eating patterns. But they also note the consistency of the patterns of association between red meat and reductions in the clinically diagnosed mental health disorders lends credence to their findings.
So, are we all here for a good time or a long time?