Could A Dietary Deficiency Be Driving the Anger of Vegans?
So in spite of what I wrote some weeks ago, quoting Gary Yourofsky, that there is “no counter-argument to veganism” … well, I may have found a counter-argument to veganism. And it may be the secret reason why there are so many angry, aggressive vegans.
When I was a kid, my dad would say that he had a “half-baked” idea lol … letting us know that he had not yet thought the idea all the way through … so here dedicated to my dad, is my half-baked theory :D
Vegans and Absolutism
For those of us who became vegan for ethical reasons, I think it is difficult at times to acknowledge – especially in public – the downsides of being vegan. The fear, I suspect, is that if we leave non-vegans any wiggle room at all … they will use any excuse in the book not to make lifestyle changes. After all, people are creatures of habit. And many of us are addicted to our foods and lifestyle choices. It’s easier to say “protein” and “B-12″ than it is to do the real work of coming to terms with our conscience and making changes. And this feels heartbreaking to many of us, because we woke up to the heavy costs to the animals and the planet of our carnivorous ways.
Which leads many vegans, I think, to take an absolutist stance about veganism that – unfortunately – may be doing more harm than good.
Why Are There So Many ANGRY Vegans?
But … this past week, I think I may have uncovered another reason why vegans as a group are so angry. And here we run into a real counter-argument to veganism that cannot simply be shoved under the rug. It must be addressed forthrightly if vegans expect veganism to gain widespread acceptance.
In the vegan communities of which I am a part, many felt OUTRAGE (notice again the ANGER) when an article came out claiming that:
88% of Vegans/Vegetarians Go Back to Eating Meat
WOW. I mean, just wow. What hope does the vegan movement really have with statistics like that?
And while social pressures certainly are a factor for some people to return to eating meat and fish and other animal products … it turns out that the main reason is HEALTH.
“The main reasons vegetarians agree to start incorporating more animal products in their diet are declining energy levels, change in skin or hair, and even weight gain,” says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., CEO and founder of NY Nutrition Group.
Let’s repeat that again for emphasis: declining energy levels, change in skin or hair, and weight gain.
Moskovitz mentioned the following as potential deficiencies: iron, zinc, B-vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, and protein. And indeed, those nutrients may be part of the issue that causes vegans and vegetarians to go back to eating meat and fish and dairy and eggs. It is entirely possible to get all those nutrients in abundance from non-animal product sources. However, there are some questions about the bio-availability of some of those nutrients from plant sources. And getting the proper balance of nutrients requires education, incorporation of new and unfamiliar foods, and cutting out junk food. Because many vegans make the switch only to subsist on highly processed vegan “fake meat,” “fake cheese,” and other foods of highly questionable nutritional value, it is no surprise their health would suffer.
For example, if someone substitutes the new “vegan slices” for cheese … they get something that tastes good but that has almost zero real nutrition. Of course, let’s not lose sight of the fact that most processed Westernized food can be described this way … whether it contains animal products or not :)
My recent experience though suggests that the main culprit in vegans and vegetarians returning to animal products is another one entirely … And that people can suffer from this deficiency EVEN IF THEY ARE DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT AS A VEGAN.
My Vegan Experience
My first few months as a vegan, the biggest surprise was the upside surprise. As I wrote in the last article about diet and health, when I cut out dairy, my skin became less inflamed. My menstrual cycles also seem to be easier.
It was not until some months into being vegan that I started to notice some symptoms that were strange and mysterious and seemingly lacking in any explanation.
For years already, I had been taking a multi-vitamin to aid my problem-plagued skin. Off and on, I had also already been taking a B-12/iron supplement in liquid form. For that reason, I was probably less likely to develop some of the deficiencies that can be a concern for vegans.
Nonetheless, I started experiencing undesirable symptoms that told me something was wrong. These symptoms included:
- Eyes feeling weird. I have a video somewhere where I recorded trying to explain it on camera. My eyes have always been sensitive (though with perfect vision), and I have always used drops a couple times a day. Now, however, my eyes were bloodshot a lot and stayed that way no matter how many eye drops I used. It’s kind of like blurred vision or eye fatigue but not quite like either one. I’ve always been sensitive to bright light but now that sensitivity increased. This felt distracting and made it difficult to look at a computer screen.
- Extremely dry skin. My skin has generally tended toward the oilier side. By September of 2014, I noticed that my hands, face, and other skin were extremely dry.
- Itchy scalp and hairs turning white! I had a few white hairs but not very many. Suddenly they were proliferating. And my scalp was itching on a regular basis.
- Dry and “lifeless” hair. I have always as an adult had lustrous, strong, healthy, thick hair. It simply does not look as good at this time. And it looks a little bit thinned out on the right side of my head.
- Dry-feeling joints. Joints not feeling lubricated.
- Less ability to concentrate, forgetfulness. I am usually someone who is pretty laser-focused and clear-headed. I was finding myself absent minded, forgetting what I was doing in the middle of a task, and even occasionally forgetting an important appointment!
- Lack of motivation.
- Lots of anger. Like many vegans, I was feeling angry pretty much all the time. This was not necessarily a bad thing so long as it was temporary. I went deep into the anger to heal it and recorded a really powerful 30-Day Shadow Self Challenge. However, I had no desire to continue to live with this much anger all the time.
- A general sense that aging was “accelerating.” Of course, my body was looking as good as it has ever looked. But when I looked at my face especially, something didn’t feel right.
The onset of these symptoms was so sudden and just a few months after becoming vegan. So I never thought this was any kind of “normal aging.” It was clear to me that some nutrient was lacking. I just didn’t know which one. Or maybe multiple deficiencies. I did not know. I was determined to “get to the bottom of it” because I did not want to go back to eating animal products. So I started trying various supplements but nothing was working.
Further complicating things is that during this time, I was “doing everything right.” So I was consuming flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and later flax seeds on a regular basis in order to “meet my omega 3 requirements.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where we run into the counter-argument to veganism.
Vegans and Omega 3
If you have not educated yourself about Omega 3 essential fatty acids, it may be worth doing so. Basically, as I understand it, omega 3 fatty acids come in at least three forms. Plant and land animal sources that contain only alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (unless the animal producing them is fed seafood or algae) and ocean sources that contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are what the body actually needs to maintain its systems. The only direct sources of EPA and DHA are seafood and algae.
Adding to this is that the human need for omega 3 rises relative to the consumption of omega 6 fatty acids. Although the science is too complex to explain here, omega 6 fatty acids are considered inflammatory and omega 3 are considered anti-inflammatory. If, for example, a vegan is obtaining important nutrients like zinc, magnesium, protein, and so forth from nuts and seeds (as I have been doing), the high omega 6 content of those foods creates an even greater need for omega 3 IN THE FORM OF EPA AND DHA.
The human body has a limited ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA. And it is that word “limited” where we have a problem. Theoretically, vegans can get their EPA and DHA by converting ALA. However, even in best case scenario, the human ability to convert ALA is very low. And in some humans, this conversion is impaired or NON-EXISTENT.
“Conversion enzymes [of ALA to EPA and DHA] may not function as well in people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, or certain metabolic disorders and in those who inherit a limited ability to produce these enzymes (a possibility in populations where fish has been a major component of the diet for many generations).”
Which means a vegan can be eating plenty of omega 3 from plant sources in the form of ALA … but not having any or anywhere close to sufficient EPA and DHA. When exacerbated by a diet that is high in omega 6 … we have a problem, ladies and gentlemen.
And guess what that spells? INFLAMMATION. Full-body inflammation. Inflammation and anger go hand in hand.
So my half-baked theory is that many if not most vegans are chronically deprived of omega 3. And not only are their bodies inflamed, everything is inflamed. Including their emotional response to the world.
Okay, So I May Be An “Inflamed” Omega-3-Deficient Vegan. Now What?
After trying a number of supplements with no seeming success, and doing a ton of research about my symptoms … I finally ran into the information about inadequate conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA.
I actually did have a bottle of something called Algae Omega but I was taking it, at best, at the recommended dosages. Which only gives about 570 milligrams a day of combined DHA and EPA. But see, I figured I was covered. After all, countless vegans had told me that vegans can get their Omega 3s from flax seed and chia seed … And I was eating those and taking flaxseed oil on a regular basis.
Suddenly, I had the intuition to increase the dosage of the Algae Omega. Within hours, I noticed something shocking. My eyes felt “normal” for the first time in months. And as I continued doing research, I noticed what had changed. My eyes were actually lubricated. I could feel tears when I blinked. For months, I had been suffering from dry eye syndrome. A classic symptom of omega 3 deficiency. Along with all of the other symptoms that I listed above …
Within a few days of increasing my dosage of direct EPA and DHA, my skin and hair started producing more oil again. My eyes still feel bloodshot but I’m going to give all this a little time for my body to make use of the EPA and DHA. I am also exploring whether I have additional deficiencies such as vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, and riboflavin. It will probably be a few weeks before I can report the full results of all this. And by no means am I recommending anything at this time. It is too early to tell.
The Counter-Argument to Veganism
So I am going to guess that omega 3 deficiency is one of the number one causes why people start seeing declining health after going vegan or vegetarian. It’s all fine and good to recommend that people use supplements but it’s a first world remedy for the most part. How are you going to prescribe that the whole planet go vegan when you’ve got a huge elephant in the room like this? Long-term omega 3 deficiency is a leading cause of numerous diseases, including aging, and is not to be trifled with. Recommending that people take the algae supplements at the levels they probably need to take them to balance out omega 6 is going to be very, very expensive. And to add further complication, the algae supplement may be making my skin break out. I am going to give it a little more of a chance before jumping to conclusions.
Even a leading vegan doctor advocate acknowledges this major health issue:
“[V]vegetarian, and especially vegan, diets provide little EPA and DHA directly. A recent study reviewed the varying dietary fat intake across vegetarians, vegans, omnivores, and semi-omnivores and its impact on essential omega-3 fatty acid availability in tissues. It concluded that vegetarians were left with reduced levels of omega-3 and recommended that they consume additional direct sources of EPA and DHA, regardless of age or gender, for physical, mental and neurological health benefits.“
And then he goes on to sell his very expensive (for most people) algae-based supplement. That supplement provides a very low and probably inadequate dosage of DHA and EPA. And so would probably have to be increased to be effective, adding further to the cost. How are we supposed to recommend this as a widespread dietary practice at this time?
Vegans live longer than meat eaters… But vegans have to deal with an uncomfortable fact. Fish eaters live longer than vegans. And fish of course, is the easiest way to get plenty of DHA and EPA without having to convert it from ALA.
Why Are Vegans So Angry?
I am hoping that vegans will read this article with an open mind. I am not yet ready to abandon veganism. And I am also not willing for this serious health issue to be shoved under the rug. Part of me expects that I will receive an angry response, either being shunned or dismissed or criticized. And, well, I have compassion for that …
Because another change since I way upped the DHA and EPA is that I feel way less ANGRY.
So I did research on this issue too. And I was not surprised to learn that omega 3 deficiency is in fact a cause of aggression.
“Even in healthy people, supplementing with fish oil decreases anger and anxiety and increases vigor while also improving various types of attention, cognitive and physiological functions – including overall mood.”
This, then, is my half-baked theory:
I think vegans are so angry because most of them are deficient in omega 3 fatty acids.
And while at some level the anger is “understandable,” it is also causing a whole lot of problems. It’s going to require a calm-headed creativity to get this planet’s problems solved. Not to mention, that this process would go a whole lot faster if people learned holistic healing skills. Many vegans are too busy being angry to step back and consider more constructive options.
So from my perspective, this counter-argument to veganism needs to be carefully considered and addressed. How, exactly, are people supposed to get high enough levels of omega 3 without consuming animal products, at the very least fish?
(Now, yes, let us also acknowledge here, this problem is not ONLY a vegan problem. Grain-fed meat and the nasty oils used in fast food and junk food and much of Western cooking are also extremely high in omega 6. Our population regardless of being vegan or vegetarian has a major imbalance in omega 3 and omega 6. And indeed we live in an angry culture. Studies of prison population found that violence went down when a vegan diet was fed – but those studies may have been too short-term to account for omega-3 reserves being depleted over a longer time period and may not have been compared to a diet high in fish. Same goes for the studies of diabetics. We are in no way suggesting that a conventional Western diet is superior to a vegan diet. Indeed, we’ve got a chronically sick population and we are going to have to address our diet regardless. We are merely suggesting that unless a vegan diet can ensure proper nutrition on all fronts – including omega 3 in the form of DHA and EPA for those who cannot convert ALA effectively – we have a problem that must be addressed.)
I will be experimenting over the next few weeks … yes, I volunteer to be our guinea pig … and will report back soon. :D
About the Author:
Erika Awakening is a Harvard Law School graduate and former practicing attorney. She left the rat race to become a location-independent entrepreneur, holistic life coach, blogger, speaker, healer, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT tapping) expert. Erika Awakening is one of the world's foremost experts on eradicating limiting beliefs and lifestyle design on your own terms. Learn more about Erika Awakening
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