Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part II: Foods to Avoid When Managing Bipolar Disorder

We all know that an unhealthy diet can affect our bodies in negative ways. But did you know that some foods are especially bad for mental health? Studies show that the following foods are really, really bad for you if you have bipolar disorder, or suffer from depression.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant which can make you jittery and on edge, and cause you to miss out on sleep, which is crucial for managing your mood–and may tip you into mania if you don’t get enough sleep. If you’re trying to stop eating or drinking caffeine, make sure you wean yourself off of it gradually, as stopping abruptly can have adverse effects on your body.

Caffeine is found in the following:

  • coffee
  • soda
  • chocolate
  • tea
  • weight-loss pills
  • energy water
alcohol
Credit to flickr.com user Peter Anderson. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant, even though it can seem to raise your spirits (pun intended). Drinks can also lower inhibitions and increase impulsivity. In a recent study in the journal Addiction, researchers found that alcohol misuse doubled the risk of the development of major depressive disorder. Even for people who are not alcoholics, drinks may fuel suicidal ideation. As with caffeine, doctors recommend weaning yourself off alcohol gradually.

Tyramine

If you take monoamine oxidase inhibitors, like my dear friend Dyane Hardwood, then there are some dietary requirements you need to pay attention to. Most importantly, you need to avoid tyramine, which can cause the amino acid to spike, which increases blood pressure to dangerous levels. Tyramine is found in:

  • aged cheeses
  • cured, processed, and smoked meats
  • fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi
  • soybeans
  • dried fruit

Nitrates

A recent study shows that nitrates, which are chemicals used to process and cure meats, can contribute to mania. They’ve also been linked to pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and children under six should avoid them in general.

Nitrates can be found in:

  • bacon
  • pepperoni
  • salami
  • hot dogs

Supplements

Supplements like St. John’s wort aren’t really food, but some of them can interact negatively with your bipolar medications, making them less effective, or spiking their levels. Talk to your doctor about what interactions occur with supplements and herbal therapies.

Sugar

In bipolar disorder patients especially, refined sugars can cause wild mood swings. Too much sugar can contribute to obesity, which makes some bipolar medications less effective, especially if the weight is gained around the middle. Instead, look to complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and vegetables.

All in all, diet is extremely important to mental health. If you stay on top of your food and supplement intake, you’ll be able to manage your brain’s ups and downs much more effectively.

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Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

alcohol
Credit to flickr.com user Zhao. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Sometimes, the symptoms of bipolar disorder–including periods of elevated mood, depression, and irritability–are too difficult to deal with. Often, people turn to drugs and alcohol to try to cope.

“Some people attempt to treat symptoms of their mental illness with substances, but substance abuse can activate or prolong symptoms,” Marissa Krick, a writer for DrugRehab.com, said in an email.

Krick cited studies saying that up to 60 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder confess that they’ve also abused drugs or alcohol. People who suffer symptoms of acute mania or bipolar II disorder are significantly more likely to abuse benzodiazepine and alcohol than people who suffer from depression, according to the Zurich Cohort Study. In addition, a history of substance abuse complicates recovery from acute manic states.

The writers at DrugRehab.com have penned an extensive report on substance abuse in conjunction with bipolar disorder. It’s worth a read. According to the report, “Substance abuse makes symptoms of bipolar disorder worse and decreases the benefits of standard treatment. People tend to take longer to recover, spend more time in health facilities and be more likely to contemplate suicide when they misuse substances during treatment.”

But there is hope. Rehabilitation facilities can treat both substance abuse and bipolar disorder concurrently. Treatment for substance abuse starts with a detoxification process, whereas treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication and behavioral therapy. Patients going through drug or alcohol withdrawal are kept as comfortable as possible.

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