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I recently had a discussion with a friend who struggles with mental health, and that friend was planning to try a more plant-based diet (or even a totally plant-based diet) in an attempt to improve their mental health.

Have there been any studies showing that vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diets providing a beneficial effect to people who are living with diminished mental health or mental illness? If yes, which diet patterns have been shown to be more or less effective?

I'm looking for scientific studies, so answers with DOI links are strongly preferred.

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The most well-studied diet pattern regarding mental health is the Mediterranean diet pattern, which has shown in multiple small studies to reduce the severity of the symptoms of depression and even allow psychiatric medications to work better. This is most likely because the Mediterranean diet pattern naturally contains many nutrients that are recommended for depression, such as fish oil, magnesium, zinc, folate, vitamin B12, and lots of fruits and vegetables.

Vegetarian diets are typically high in many of those as well (with the exception of B12 and fish oil).

The effect of a vegan diet on mental health is not established. This is because studies have had inconsistent results, with some reporting that vegans have a much higher rate of depression than omnivores, and others stating their rate is lower! The studies that showed higher rates of depression among vegans were unable to conclude if individuals with depression were more likely to choose a vegan diet, or if there was a dietary component to the depression.

Here are a few studies that I was able to get to quickly.

Another thing to consider is the use of probiotics to improve gut health. Some studies have begun to indicate that probiotics (and prebiotics) can really work towards improving our mental health [1, 2, 3]

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  • Hi, welcome to Vegetarianism Stack Exchange and thanks for taking time to answer so many questions. I was wondering, could you provide sources for your last claim in regards to probiotics and prebiotics? Apr 8 '20 at 6:08
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    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23759244 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31858898 ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31705514 There's quite a bit of preliminary research here, but results are promising. This is a new field of research, so we don't have the large studies we want just yet. Apr 8 '20 at 21:52
  • I originally meant to update the answer with those but should have worded that clearer. Thanks for providing those! Apr 9 '20 at 12:24

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