At the beginning of college, I had been struggling with anxiety and depression for about two years. I was put on pharmaceuticals as a way to deal with my anxiety and depression. I found the pharmaceuticals made my anxiety and depression manageable enough to get through the day, but it was still there, just easier to hide. Not to mention the meds came with their own side effects as well. It was beginning to feel like this state was just permanent, and the anxiety and depression would never disappear. That was until this plant-based class gave me a glimpse of hope I never saw coming.
It’s common to hear people say “I could never go plant-based, I love meat and dairy too much.” I was the same way and would give this response when anything about veganism was mentioned. That was until I took a plant-based class sophomore year at my university. Going into the class, I remember telling a friend “I’ll never go vegan, but I think it will be interesting to learn about plant-based diets”. Here I am now, two years into living a vegan lifestyle, all because of that class. There are multiple reasons people transition to a plant-based lifestyle, such as compassion for animals, environmental activism, and health benefits. I’ve experienced all of these, but especially improvement in my mental health.
During the class, we were required to do one research paper. The topic I chose to research was the effect of plant-based diets on mental health. We had learned so much about its benefits on physical diseases like cancer, and heart disease that it made me curious about mental health. I focused on the most common which included anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. During my research, I came to realize that maybe the reason I felt so anxious and depressed all the time had to do with the food I was eating. Let me share some of the studies I found that made me open my eyes to how much impact our gut health has on our mental health.
First off, let’s talk about anxiety. Whether you consider yourself an anxious person or not, we all have felt it at least once in our life. There is a whole range of different ways one can experience anxiety. It can be worrying about day-to-day events, or the mind overthinking and making up unrealistic outcomes. There have been multiple studies comparing people with plant-based diets and meat/dairy-based diets. These studies show that the plant-based group experience less stress and anxiety compared to the control group. One of the studies took a group of people experiencing anxiety and mood swings and made them switch to a plant-based diet for two weeks. When the two-week period was over they reported that they felt much more in control of their mood.
The plant-based groups feel less stressed and experience an overall better mood due to the antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants and phytochemicals are known to reduce stress levels and the risk of chronic diseases. Not only do antioxidants and phytochemicals reduce stress, but they also reduce inflammation in the brain. Inflammation in the brain has a direct link to depression. Arachidonic acid, which is an acid that is only found when consuming animals and animal products, can lead to inflammation. Another direct link to depression is chemical imbalances. Something found in fruits and vegetables, but absent in animal products is the phytochemical quercetin. Quercetin acts as a natural antidepressant by increasing serotonin, and dopamine levels in the brain.
These studies gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone of Chick-Fila and McDonald’s, into inspiring me to try plant-based dishes. I started as a vegetarian at first and the more substitutes I found, the quicker I was able to replace dairy and eggs. It did seem to be a lot easier to manage my stress, and I felt less moody. Two to three months into my new lifestyle I felt comfortable talking to my doctor to see how I could get off of pharmaceuticals. It’s been two years since the last time I have taken pharmaceuticals and I no longer struggle with depression and rarely feel anxious. The moments when I do experience anxiety now are normal, like before a job interview for example, but it’s no longer something that I wake up to every morning. I will forever be grateful for how the class opened my eyes to how important it is to pay attention to food’s impact on my mind. It made me change my perspective on the way I viewed plant-based eating. This is a sign to try one plant-based meal and see how your body and mind feel after that meal.
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