The two most glaring vegan diet problems I see are both intrinsically related to, how to overcome depression. The first and most serious risk in a vegan diet has been well researched and documented by notable vegan physicians and nutritionists.
There is widespread agreement in the community, but certainly not universal, that a healthy vegan diet requires supplementation of vitamin B12 (VeganHealth.org). Whether in the form of supplements or vegan foods fortified with B12, it is a general consensus that there are serious risks of deficiency without it.
Notwithstanding the risks of irreversible neurological problems including schizophrenia, hallucinations and nervous disorders, deficiency in Vitamin B12 often manifests itself in the living hell of depression! Fortunately, for people who are committed to the vegan lifestyle, this problem can easily be overcome.
Being a happy omnivore and not in the habit of addressing the vegan community I will leave it to any vegans interested in Vitamin B12 supplementation to refer to the above link. Suffice to say it is the most serious of potential vegan diet problems.
To the rest of us concerned with how to overcome depression it is important to point out that as we age it becomes more difficult for our bodies to assimilate vitamin B12. This process is accomplished by glands in our stomachs that secrete a protein researchers call intrinsic factor.
The intrinsic factor is normally necessary for our bodies to be enabled to absorb B12. In ageing our bodies begin to lose this ability. Older people also tend to have digestive problems due to a lack of secretion of hydrochloric acid necessary to breakdown protein.
This also inhibits absorption of vitamin B12 as it normally comes bound to a protein. There is a way around this however. In supplements the B12 is not bound to a protein and if chewable, or even better, sublingual (can be dissolved under the tongue) they may be absorbed through passive diffusion.
Hence, older people can circumvent both the need for hydrochloric acid and the intrinsic factor if sufficient quantities are ingested. As I pointed out in a previous article the incidence of depression at the beginning of the last century was primarily limited to older people.
That changed dramatically with the corporatization of the food industry. The perils of discarding tried and true traditions. Yet it correlates very well with and supports B12 deficiency being a primary root of depression.
Some reliable sources recommend anyone over 50 years old should supplement B12. This is quite simple with a good source. This only requires a couple of lozenges per week in the absence of more serious deficiencies or issues.
As the primary thrust of this article is how to overcome depression I will skip to the next of the two principal vegan diet problems. This problem is a tad more debatable and not so easily, in my view, conquered.
As I pointed out in a previous article in order to overcome depression it is extremely important to not only have sufficient uptake of the short-chained fatty acid omega-3, but to have a reasonable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.
Unfortunate for vegans omega-3 is mainly found in meat, fish, seafood and animal products. While omega-6 is found in popular vegan protein sources like seeds and nuts. Hence, I believe that it is a real challenge for anyone on a vegan diet to keep the healthy omega-6:3 ratios.
Granted there are significant amounts of omega-3 in some vegetables, mostly legumes and grains as well as vegetable oils, but it gets a bit complicated. Omega-3 comes in three varieties. These are:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
Most of the omega-3 found in plants is ALA, which must be converted by our bodies to DHA and EPA. We have limited capacity to do this, which exasperates the challenge of keeping the overall healthy omega-6:3 ratio below 4.
As I explained in an article on depression and brain food, sulphur-containing amino acids essential for neural transmission, require omega-3 fatty acids to metabolize them. This is kind of a double whammy for vegans as both the amino acids and omega-3 are found primarily in eggs and meat.
I am sure there are probably plenty of healthy, happy vegans running around who have overcome this challenge. There are also, undoubtedly, many who are not so happy because they are suffering the adverse effects, not the least of these being depression, of not comprehending the problem.