Supplements for Sad Vegans

Are you sad? I often am. Anyone with a genetic predisposition to depression knows what it’s like to have the blues for no earthly reason. And when you are an animal rights activist, it can make things a whole lot worse.

Let’s face it, when you care about animal suffering, it’s pretty easy to feel despondent and despairing. How many of us can read about factory farming or puppy mills or fur farms without feeling anger at the least, and more often a sense of overwhelming sadness.

Maybe we can’t change our genes or control all of the things in the world that make us unhappy. But lifestyle, including diet and exercise, can make a big difference. For example, vegans can be at higher risk for certain nutrient deficiencies that might affect mood.

Research suggests that low intakes of vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids might lead to depression. For everyone—omnivores included—the only sources of vitamin D are supplements, fortified foods and sun exposure. (Actually, there are a few animal sources of vitamin D, but it is very unlikely that omnivores can eat enough of them to meet needs; that’s why cow’s milk is fortified.)

Getting enough vitamin D from sunlight is tricky because there are so many variables such as where you live, your age, and the level of pigmentation in your skin, not to mention the fact that sun exposure raises risk for skin cancer. Therefore, it is prudent for everyone to get some vitamin D from fortified foods or supplements. Vegans can look for supplements of vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol, which is plant-derived. The RDA is 600 IU per day.

All vegans need to supplement with vitamin B12, using either fortified foods or chewable supplements. You can find more information about this in my examiner column on B12.

Whether or not vegans need to supplement with the long-chain omega-3 fats (DHA) that are found in fish oils isn’t known since the research is conflicting. In the meantime, it might be a good idea for vegans to take around 200 micrograms per day of an algae-derived supplement. Jack Norris, RD has a list of vegan DHA supplements on VeganHealth.

For most people, taking supplements isn’t likely to cure depression. But a diet that is deficient in nutrients can definitely sabotage efforts to feel better. A well-balanced diet with appropriate supplements or fortified foods can help.

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11 Responses to Supplements for Sad Vegans

  1. MissAnthropy15 June 8, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    How do you feel about herbal supplements and remedies?

  2. laura June 8, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    I take a NOW brand B-complex supplement every day, so I can definitely say I have that base covered. I'm pretty sure I get enough D as well. Omega-3 is missing from the equation though, so I'm gonna check out the link you provided and try taking a DHA supplement and see if that helps.

    Thanks for this post, I definitely related to it. When you're extra sensitive (as most vegans seem to be) and see so much suffering going on every day, depression is easy to come by.

  3. Ginny Messina June 8, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    I don't really know anything about herbal supplements since that's more of a pharmacology issue. I'm sure there are some that can help. One problem, though, is lack of standardized dosages. And overall, there just isn't very good research on the whole issue.

  4. Ginny Messina June 8, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Laura, I agree that vegans are "extra sensitive." I guess that's why we care about animals so much–a mixed blessing. (Although, I'd rather be an animal rights activist than anything else in the world!)

  5. misovegan June 30, 2009 at 8:07 pm #

    Virgina, why are you suggesting such a low dose of Vit D?

  6. Ginny Messina July 5, 2009 at 11:24 am #

    Misovegan, those are the current recommendations or "adequate intakes" for vitamin D. I know that many think they are too low,though.

    Vitamin D recommendations are being re-evaluated by the government right now and it will be interesting to see what they recommend.

    ~Ginny

  7. Berto at PricePlow July 10, 2009 at 2:07 am #

    While I will NEVER understand how you people can indulge in a lifestyle that can possibly make you miserably depressed, studies do show that that lack of omega-3 fatty acids lead to depressed states:

    http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/omega-3.htm

    You may be vegan, but do yourselves a favor and find some sort of way to get your Omega-3:Omega-6 ratio somewhere between 1:1 and 1:4, not the miserable 1:20-1:30 that the typical American diet contains (vegans are likely worse). Even if you need to bend the rules…. Your brain and cardiovascular system will be much better off.

  8. Ginny Messina July 10, 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    Berto, vegans don't "indulge" in this lifestyle. We adopt an ethical lifestyle to reduce animal suffering. And when diets are well-balanced, there are no health risks associated with being a vegan. Lots of people eat unbalanced diets, though, and in fact the average non-vegan has a terrible diet. I suggested that vegans make sure they are getting enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega 3s. There are also concerns among certain segments of the omnivore populations about these nutrients, but I write for vegans.

    Also, you sell fish oil supplements and I don't know if that affects your views of the research. The evidence that omega-3s are related to depression remains conflicting. I suggested that vegans consider supplementation just to be on the safe side.

  9. Anonymous July 16, 2009 at 4:21 am #

    Probiotics can help depression as well. I take Bio K liquid dairy free probiotic. It's mango flavor and tastes like candy. :)

  10. Evelyn October 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Ginny thanks for this article, I've been supplementing with B12 and just started with Vit D & DHA. Is there a difference in absorption between Vit D2 & Vit D3? I take D2 as it's the one recommended for Vegans.

  11. Alin Hanghiuc December 1, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    The link, to the examiner.com column on B12, is broken.

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