A Vegetarian Diet Will Make You Sick And Crazy

I have to admit, that was kind of fun.  See, what I did with the headline for this post was to look at a couple of observational studies and jump to the kind of unsubstantiated cause-and-effect conclusions so beloved by media health writers – and particularly beloved by many vegetarian zealots.

Take T. Colin Campbell – please.  He and his vegan pals show up in vegan propaganda films like Forks Over Knives and solemnly inform the world that in countries with high rates of meat consumption, people are more likely to die of cancer.  Must be the animal protein causing the cancer, ya see.  (Unfortunately, this unscientific claptrap is persuasive to reviewers like Roger Ebert, who apparently knew a lot about good filmmaking but almost nothing about good science.)

There could be all kinds of reasons other than animal protein causes cancer! that people who live in countries with high rates of meat consumption are more likely to die of cancer.  I’ll give you just one:  Animal protein is expensive compared to other foods, so people in prosperous countries eat more of it than people in poor countries do.  People in prosperous countries also have longer lifespans because of better medical care – which means they live long enough to die from the diseases of old age, including cancer.

T. Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, John McDougall … I’m sure they’re all intelligent enough to understand that correlation doesn’t prove causation.   I’m also sure they don’t care, at least not when they can dig up a correlation that supports their vegetarian agenda.  That’s because they consider eating animal foods immoral.  It’s a sin, you see, so if they need to tell little white lies in order to stop people from sinning, that’s okay.   Nothing wrong with portraying correlation as causation if it supports the true cause.

So in that spirit, let’s take a look at the studies that inspired my headline.  Here are some quotes from an online article about a study linking vegetarianism to poor health:

Vegetarians may have a lower BMI and drink alcohol sparingly, but vegetarian diets are tied to generally poorer health, poorer quality of life and a higher need for health care than their meat-eating counterparts.

I think the only correct interpretation of that finding is that if you’re going to be a vegetarian, you should also try to stay fat and drunk.

A new study from the Medical University of Graz in Austria finds that vegetarians are more physically active, drink less alcohol and smoke less tobacco than those who consume meat in their diets. Vegetarians also have a higher socioeconomic status and a lower body mass index. But the vegetarian diet — characterized by a low consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol that includes increased intake of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products — carries elevated risks of cancer, allergies and mental health disorders.

Vegetarians were twice as likely to have allergies, a 50 percent increase in heart attacks and a 50 percent increase in incidences of cancer.

Wow.  More physically active, more economically prosperous, less likely to drink, less likely to smoke, and less likely to be fat … yet still more likely to be in poor health, including more likely to develop cancer or suffer a heart attack.  Has T. Colin Campbell been informed of this finding?

The cross-sectional study from Austrian Health Interview Survey data and published in PLos One examined participants’ dietary habits, demographic characteristics and general lifestyle differences.

Many past studies have instead put an emphasis on the health risks associated with red meat and carnivorous diets, but this study points the other dietary direction. However, the researchers do caution that continuing studies will be needed to substantiate some of the rather broad dietary distinctions, associations presented in this current research.

No, no, no, we don’t need to be cautious.  If we find an association we like in an observational study, we can treat it as cause-and-effect and trumpet it from the hilltops … or in a book called The China Study.

Overall, vegetarians were found to be in a poorer state of health compared to other dietary groups. Vegetarians reported higher levels of impairment from disorders, chronic diseases, and “suffer significantly more often from anxiety/depression.”

So a vegetarian diet will give you mental problems as well.  But as a health writer, I don’t want to rely on a single study to reach that conclusion.  So let’s look at another one.  In this study from Germany, vegetarians were found to have higher rates of depression, anxiety, hypochondria and eating disorders.

Now, if we wanted to be careful, we’d have to consider all kinds of possible explanations.  It could be that people who are sick or depressed or have an eating disorder are more likely to try a vegetarian diet, hoping for a dietary cure.  It could be that more vegetarians are obsessed with being thin, which makes them more likely to semi-starve themselves, which in turns leads to poor health and depression.  Eating or not eating meat may have nothing to do with it, at least not directly.

But I’m not in the mood to be careful.  I more in the mood to channel the spirits of Campbell, Bernard, McDougall, and the other great vegan zealots.  So I’ll just declare that according to the recent research, a vegetarian diet will make you sick and crazy.

Heh-heh-heh … like I said, that was kind of fun.


72 thoughts on “A Vegetarian Diet Will Make You Sick And Crazy

  1. Nostrildamus

    High meat consumption has a very plausible mechanism via which it can increase cancer risk: upregulation of the mTOR pathway. Don’t be in denial and read about it and the brilliant work of Rosedale.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Uh-huh … so how to you explain the observational studies showing that vegetarians have higher rates of cancer? Why did Linda McCartney die of cancer? Why have I seen observational studies in which cancer rates rose with meat consumption, but then dropped below average as meat consumption rose even more? Does meat cause cancer, but then prevent cancer if eat a lot of it?

      I’m not the one in denial, obviously.

      1. Nostrildamus

        Vegetarians eat high carb diets so they get their cancer from the IGF pathway from chronic insulin elevation.

        I don’t know who This lady is so can’t tell you. n=1 and all that.

        Seriously , who gives a shit about observational studies ?

        Denial or no denial, diet is simple really. You make the choice and pay the price. Go ahead and ignore mTOR if you think it doesn’t matter.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Correct, I don’t think it matters. If it did, hunter-gatherers who ate a lot of meat would have been riddled with cancer. Observational studies are lousy for determining cause and effect, but a lack of a correlation is pretty good evidence that there’s no cause and effect. So when I see studies in which cancer is associated with meat consumption, but inversely correlated with even higher meat consumption, I find it laughable that meat causes cancer.

          This lady … Linda McCartney? Paul McCartney’s wife, a vegetarian advocate who died of cancer in her fifties.

            1. Taurus

              Robin and Maurice were both vegans. Barry the meat eater was the oldest one and still living.

  2. Firebird7478

    I know 2 nearly lifelong vegetarians. One was always skinny and emaciated, and pale. My mom use to say he looked like death warmed over. Practically a vegan. He recovered some of his palor when he began to add some dairy into his diet. He also had a persistent hack, coughing up phlegm, which if he’d spit into a sink if he was near one, otherwise he’d spit into a hankie he carried. Also, he was wickedly OCD and a germophobe. He’d shake hands with you and immediately wash his hands in the sink.

    The other became obese but at the same time managed to have a gaunt look to his face that included dark circles. He also liked his scotch, because, you know, it’s vegan friendly and gluten free. He went on a severe starvation diet, lost a lot of weight and walked around with a lot of flab and loose skin…but at least his body caught up to his gaunt look, which had an almost purple pallor to it.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’ve known a handful of vegans/vegetarians personally. I wouldn’t trade health status with a single one them.

        1. Walter Bushell


          See also Denise Minger’s AHS14 video @

          or directly to youtube @

          Reminds me of some M. C. Esher prints like the black and white birds.

          10% fat by calories is _rather_ shall I say austere.

          Of course, ketogenic diets are also austere (these diets allow you to eat sugar, unlimited fruit and potatoes, and even fruit juice) and for me that much fat just passes through.

  3. Boundless

    > … Roger Ebert, who apparently knows …

    Knew. He’s departed, of cancer. I have no idea if he had gone veggie.

    Several vegan/vegetarian/fruitarian celebrities have died over the past few years, of cancer and even some very odd things (autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis). At least one also had Parkinson’s, we learn. Anecdotes to be sure, but I suspect vegs never ask themselves “hello, is there even a small chance we’re making a big mistake here?”

    Many choose the diet to avoid precisely these outcomes. It’s obviously not absolute protection, if any protection at all. My bet is that it increases their risks.

    > … a vegetarian diet will make you sick and crazy.

    … and possibly suicidal, esp if the “plant-based diet” includes any amount of wheat, which has been known to aggravate psychiatric conditions since WWII (and that was heirloom wheat – the modern stuff may actually be worse, in which case it would explain a lot about the rise in ASD as well).

    1. Onlooker

      “but I suspect vegs never ask themselves “hello, is there even a small chance we’re making a big mistake here?”

      Nope, because (as you probably know) it’s a religion for them, and thus not subject to empirical evidence or logic. Their fundamentalism is just as impenetrable and pernicious as religious fundamentalism.

  4. Tom Welsh

    This is probably far from original, but I have been wondering why the following couldn’t be done. (For important research, such as that on nutrition and health).

    1. A group of scientists (A) develops a hypothesis (e.g. “eating fat makes you fat, and then makes you die young of heart disease”).

    2. An *entirely different* group of scientists (ideally, chosen for their perfect neutrality with respect to the hypothesis) then designs experiments or surveys to test the hypothesis.

    3. At this point, the resulting statistics are anonymized – handed over as a pure set of data – to a group of statisticians, who are asked to analyze them and say what conclusions can safely be drawn.

    Would that work?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      In theory, sure. But it’s controlled dietary experiments that last for many years are very expensive and difficult to control.

  5. Firebird7478

    Remember how sick Ashton Kutcher became when he turned vegan in preparation for his role as Steve Jobs? If I recall he went on a fruit only diet.

    1. Bret

      So ironic that the wealthiest and ‘best educated’ (ha) members of society often run into the worst dietary advice. Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, and Steve Jobs come to mind as well.

      Their folly, of course, is to trust the federally funded mainstream advice industry.

  6. Boundless

    As I’ve said elsewhere, but will expand a bit here, there are basically three kinds of people who do vegan and vegetarian:

    1. theoreticals, who think it’s an ideal or ancestral human diet

    2. ethicals, who might consume animals if the food chain were less horrific

    3. philosophicals, who don’t want to consume animals however sourced, for various reasons

    On #1 (theoreticals):
    Veggie isn’t and wasn’t an ideal or ancestral diet, except possibly for some obscure isolated tribes [genotypes]. The person doing it is almost certainly not such a genotype. But they are at least outcome-focused, and might be willing to catch clues that they’ve been misled.

    This link is useful in that regard:
    Yes, you can be veggie and not get killed by it, but it takes so much supplementation that you really need to wonder.

    On #2 (ethicals):
    These people may just need to get plugged into regional pasture-raised sources. They need to help all of us drive down demand for demented CAFO by driving up demand for pastured.

    On #3 (philosophicals):
    The range of zealotry varies here – with that defined as “the principles trump consequences, even if the consequences are the exact opposite of what the conjecture was originally purported to produce”.

    The first question to ask any of these is:
    Are you willing to be mistaken?

    That’s a very carefully phrased question, and the answer is usually quite revealing (of the listener’s comprehension, if nothing else).

    Personally, I’m always willing to be mistaken, and indeed anxious to learn of any error.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I went trough my vegetarian phase because I thought it would improve my health. That made it easier to give up when the results weren’t good … although in retrospect, I should have reached that conclusion sooner.

      1. Elenor

        I dimly remember reading somewhere that for some? many? people who don’t like/can’t stand the taste of meat? If they supplement with magnesium (or was it manganese?) (probably magnesium…), meat ceases to be objectionable. That it’s a sensory default that leads to hating the taste of meat! (Thought it was interesting, didn’t care to pursue it cause I LOVE meat!)

  7. John Hopkinson

    I was vegan for about five years, brainwashed by the China Study via Joel Fuhrman, who has a lot to answer for in my view. For the first year I got colds non-stop. I just told myself it was my immune system adjusting to my new inner environment, weakened perhaps by the toxins my body was taking the opportunity to expel, now that I was pure. Then I had two or three pretty good years, and I thought, yep, this vegan thing is the way to live! I thought I was pretty skinny, though really I was skinny-fat, with degenerated musculature. I laugh when I look back at how we’d head out to the pizza place every weekend to satisfy those carb cravings, throwing back crust after crust. As long as it didn’t carry a single slice of evil salami or bacon, I knew I’d be safe from every disease known to man. I just lied to myself about the cheese. There’s a lot of lying to oneself involved in being a vegan, I found.

    When I felt unwell, I used to fast for a few days. Sometime in year five of my vegan life, I mistook the anxiety and bad breath I was experiencing, for some kind of ‘toxic build-up’ (toxins are the ever-present boogeyman for vegans such as I was), and began a two day fast. Little did I know that my nervous system, after years of begin starved of saturated fats, was on the verge of collapse. The fast practically finished it off. The day I began eating again was the day acute anxiety disorder exploded into my life, with panic attacks, sudden weeping jags, periods of depression, suicidal thoughts, depersonalisation, insomnia (the worst part of it), physical pain or occasionally numbness, nausea, dizziness, constant nightmares, suicidal idealation, existential terror, and a few more cool sensations I don’t know the names of or even how to describe. Joel Fuhrman charged me $300.00 for a one-on-one phone consultation where he told me that all would be well if I ate more nuts.

    In the face of this crisis, I became more careless about what I ate, and this is probably what fixed me over the next 18 months. Then, about two years after this event, I discovered Mark’s Daily Apple, went paleo, and now I’m perfectly well again, so perfectly well it seems like a miracle.

    I don’t try to argue with veges or vegans. They, like I was, are too deeply immersed in their own narratives, which are pseudo-religious in nature, where the bean sprout is baby Jesus and the beef steak the devil tempting him in the desert.

    Thanks for all your superb work, Tom. You’re part of a movement that is saving people like me from having to go through that suffering.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I’m sure plenty of vegans out there think I’m the devil. But I help a few rethink their dietary choices and their health improves, it’s all good.

      1. Stephen

        Yeah, I used to think you were the devil. I fell completely for the vegan line about meat causing cancer. Hey, when you see it in a documentary, you tend to believe it. At any rate, I do believe we all need to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. But I will credit the low-carb crowd for recognizing the role of healthy fats in the diet. Before, I was paranoid about eating fat and animal products. Now, I eat about 5% of my calories from animal products, and about 30% of my calories from fat.

        I really need to embrace all the different eating styles that people get into. I used to think low-carb was silly, but now I understand it’s a way people prefer to eat. We’re all different.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Different genetic backgrounds, different degrees of metabolic health, different taste preferences that enable actually sticking to a diet … put ’em together and you get different diets working best for different people.

          1. Stephen

            Agreed. I also think that people regain their health through either a vegan/plant-based or low-carb/Paleo diet, because they both eliminate the inflammation from SAD that promotes obesity. (E.g., high fiber fixes gut health, which is fundamental to this type of inflammation.)

            Stephan Guyenet’s wonderful AHS talk on leptin resistance shows these inflammation mechanisms very clearly:

    2. Walter Bushell

      How did you know there are no animal fats in the pizza dough or even the sauce? And you ate only no cheese pizza?

    3. B35

      I think the usual vegan philosophy is that if you are having problems, eat more veggies and whole-grains. It fixes everything!

  8. Dominik

    My country does science, lol. But see, this is only a problem for German speaking vegetarians! Obviously! 😉

  9. Pierson

    Speaking of which, did you see Denise Minger’s presentation at the AHS regarding low-fat veganism? It was terribly fascinating stuff, and really quite well-researched (as per usual with her work). Basically–at least in the short-term–, it seems that low fat, salt, and protein veganism (and sugar) aren’t nearly as dangerous as they’re made out to be, and may even be effective in treating some serious dietary conditions. I urge you to watch it if you can, if for no other reason than it’s (I think) an interesting assessment

  10. B35

    One of the reasons the vegan zealots are annoying is that they don’t just think everyone must follow diet with a passion is that they try to shame everyone into doing it. Including former vegans.

    Now if you will excuse me I will start passing this study off to anyone I can find, including that cashier I met once at Wal-Mart.
    (Right after I consume a 16oz steak with heavy butter)

  11. Craig Rich

    Here’s my experience:
    I ate a somewhat vegetarian diet because I was living in Taiwan and being cheap (meat and dairy are quite expensive compared to everything else). I mostly ate buckwheat and steel-cut oats with some pasta now and there. Every day I also ate fresh veggies and a few eggs because I knew I needed some fat and protein. I even made “healthy” dessert with a little sugar, eggs, cocoa powder and crushed black sesame seed powder (which tasted pretty good). Everything was made from scratch and all the health sites said I was getting a good variety of nutrients. I lost weight, but I didn’t lose much of my belly and I didn’t look good. Then chronic fatigue and depression set in. All this took place in a matter of 4 months or so. Lots of stuff happened, but I eventually moved back to America and went back to eating a standard American diet when all my problems went away, but the weight came back. I know I never want to experience that again. I would rather be fat than weak and depressed. Thanks to “Fat-Head” I know I don’t have to be either 🙂

    The other thing I’ve noticed since embracing low-carb is that Vegans on the internet are bullies who don’t understand science at all. I’ve been watching low-carb lectures on youtube and half the posts are vegans saying things like “the people in the audience look fat” or “some low-carb gurus are fat, therefore you should ignore the science” or some inane statement. It’s like they never learned courtesy, logic, or the most basic reasoning skills. That damages their cause more than anything in my opinion. Who wants to listen to an idiot? Using terms like “rotten flesh eater” or “corpse muncher” doesn’t help either. I figure their brains are suffering from lack of fat.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s the True Believer mentality. Part of that mentality is hostility towards anyone who disagrees.

  12. Walter Bushell

    As a nutrition blogger you must keep abreast of Ms. Minger’s work because of her brilliant and painstaking research and iconoclastic mind. Besides she’s not hard to watch.

  13. Frank

    I was a vegetarian for 25 years and can tell you that they’re annoying people. I never made a point of telling anyone, if someone asked why I would answer them and then leave it at that. I’ve been Banting for 2 years and have never felt better – really. OH! and allergies have gone! Frank.

  14. Desmond

    Tom I think we found the ultimate unsolveable question: It is “You have to be crazy to go vegetarian” or “Vegetarianism will drive you crazy”?

    Shall we call it Naughton’s Paradox?

  15. Margery H.

    Cannot believe that ‘Forks Over Knives’ became such a big hit.
    And to think vegetarians are in a higher social class, :P:!
    Looking at the +50% allergens statistic by itself, I’ll take a pass
    Last summer my allergies cleared up, thankfully

    You really should keep skewering these vegan zealots
    One thing they are good at is propaganda against paleo/meat eaters
    Understanding that ‘Forks Over Knives’ is just the beginning, is key
    Really thought the ‘vegan’ fad was dying down, apparently not

    Sorry for the grammar – English isn’t my first language
    One day hopefully it will be 🙂
    Now – enough with all of this vegetarian talk, back to the farm!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Your English is better than my Spanish by a long shot, and that’s the only other language I’ve ever tried to learn.

  16. K2

    Good evening Tom and everyone,

    To add another veg celeb who passed early: Davy Jones (heart-throb of The Monkeys) who died a couple of years ago of a heart attack, and who I believe was vegetarian.

    From time to time, I wander over to the John McDougall forum, mostly for grins and a good laugh. But too often, they aren’t that off-the-wall, but people trying to follow what they think is a healthy diet and finding they don’t get better or do even worse. An example is a woman who posted a few months ago that after years on the diet, she ended up with colon cancer. If you read through the entries in the link below, you’ll see that her oncologist told her the tumor had been growing 3-5 years, well after she had started the diet, which was supposed to make her “bullet proof.”

    Interestingly, she asked the doctor about The China Study and Campbell’s findings on protein “turning on and turning off cancer cells.” The doctor came back with a perfect reply: that was ONE kind of isolated protein, on ONE type of cancer, in ONE organ in genetically modified rodents. Cancer – and I suspect most of the diseases the vegan/WFPB diet claims to cure – doesn’t work that way. And I haven’t seen another post from this poor woman since. I hope she just got smart and realized accusations that she wasn’t “doing it right” weren’t worth the effort of posting.


    And…Dr. McDougall himself. I stumbled across this very recent video where he looks emaciated, eyes sunk in with dark circles. Admittedly, the video is not great quality and the lighting “meh,” but you can tell he doesn’t look like the picture of health.


    FWIW, there was a link to it on the forum, and now I can’t find it to save my life…and it was only up there this weekend. Kinda think it was swiftly removed. If you take a look at him, you’ll see why.

    You are so right, Tom, that there are so many genetic variations in humans, as well as factors like age, gender, activity level, etc, that one-size doesn’t fit all. I tried vegan for a couple of months, LCHF for a couple of months, and neither suited me. I am happily in the middle eating real foods, like sweet potatoes, veggies, eggs, salmon, nuts…you know…FOOD. Real food. I am pretty sure that’s one of the biggest factors we should all consider. Then move on and live our lives as best we can.

    Best to you all.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s people like that woman who have my sympathy. The “meat is murder!” moralizing zealots can all get sick and croak and I won’t much care. But people who adopt that lifestyle to try to improve their health and then suffer for it, they deserve better.

  17. Steven G.


    Did you ever read the article about gorillas in American zoo dying of CVD? I think that article alone is damning against vegan diets because gorillas are vegans and they were being fed a vegan diet of sugar and starch. Once they switched their diets to a more natural diet, they lost weight despite eating twice the calories.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      As always, food quality matters, whether you’re talking about low-carb, vegan, etc. I’ve also read that gorillas consume insects with their plants.

  18. Firebird7478

    I just watched Larry King interview Weird Al Yankovic who says he’s been nearly vegan (some dairy) for 20 years. Larry marveled at how young Weird Al looked at 54. I didn’t think he looked so young. He says his wife maintained a vegan diet while pregnant but would sometimes answer her cravings…which was meat. Their child is now 11 years old and she, too, is nearly vegan (some dairy).

    I am guessing he will be putting out a video soon of some illness that has finally caught up to him, and it won’t be a parody.

  19. flubbergusted

    interesting that it’s not enough for you guys to enjoy the livestyle you chose, you need to put others down and say “iiiiiii figured it all out and i am soooo right. Me Me Me Me Me”. And this list of famous people who were vegans/vegetarians and died early….wow, yeah, that really proofs A LOT!
    hope you vultures at least eat good meat and not that trash from the supermarket.
    can’t leave this side without saying your pictures are disgusting. not a problem with eating meat but some respect would be in order and i would certainly not listen to an edu-bullshiter with such an ill looking complexion.
    so, now that i got rid of my hate i feel much better and hope that i will never stumble upon this side again.
    and fingers crossed that not every person wants to eat like that in the near future….not really enough proper meat there…not to think of the environmental side of this BS.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Did you totally miss the point of the post? Vegan and vegetarian zealots love to point to observational studies (which prove nothing) as “proof” that meat will kill you. So I employed their technique to show how stupid it is. I took observational studies linking a vegetarian diet to poor health and mental problems and held them up as “proof.”

  20. Razwell

    Hi Tom, :))

    Genuine scientists are VERY comfortable with tremendous uncertainty- at least the great ones. Scientists are still unraveling how cells work- we are a very , very long way from fully understanding human biochemical cellular operations. Or even having a nearly complete understanding. This fact has HUGE implications for the field of medicine, as well as nutrition. The ideal human diet does not even exist most likely. If it even does possibly, then we are nowhere near knowing it.

    NONE of the vegan militants can get around this fact. They are stopped in their tracks. Spread this around :))

    As Dr. Krauss points out, simply being published in the peer-reviewed literature means next to nothing. Dr. Krauss notes LOTS and LOTS of JUNK is published every single day. Much stuff that is wrong gets by referees.

    As Krauss notes: In science, you have an interesting idea, then others take it up and it gets done more and more (*** important caveat not often mentioned: preferably using many multiple and very different techniques and methods to test it****). If it all points in the same direction, our confidence grows . STILL, all these different methods could STILL lead to a wrong result, but it is less likely.

    Nature is the arbiter, NOT humans abusing peer-review or gatekeeping. Light bent when testing Einstein’s idea. That is all that mattered. Whether people agreed or not ( or did not like this idea) is irrelevant. NATURE agreed with Einstein.

    Nature keeps on surprising us every single day.

    Take care,


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