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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Good, Good, Good Nutrition, Part I: Foods to Eat to Help Manage Bipolar Disorder

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

Food is important. That’s undeniable. While there’s no specific diet that helps manage bipolar disorder, studies have shown that an unhealthy diet can trigger manic episodes. New research shows hat depression symptoms decline with a Mediterranean-style diet. So, what you put into your body is crucial. Although the foods that follow won’t cure bipolar disorder, they can help you feel better, making it easier to cope with mood episodes.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are largely used to manage heart disease, though some studies have suggested that they can help with mental health as well. According to a recent review by Peet and Stokes, “Epidemiological studies indicate an association between depression and low dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids, and biochemical studies have shown reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes in both depressive and schizophrenic patients.” This basically means that people who eat fewer omega-3 fatty acids tend to deal with more depressive symptoms. This is a big deal!

Other results have been more mixed, showing that there’s a lot more research that has to be done before omega-3s can be used to definitively treat bipolar disorder or depression.

Omega-3s can be found in:

  • fatty fish, like salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, halibut, and sardines
  • flax seeds and their oil
  • eggs
  • soybeans
  • walnuts
  • wild rice

Magnesium

Preliminary studies suggest that magnesium is useful for reducing the symptoms of mania. Still others report that the vitamin is good for warding off depression and migraines. There’s a whole host of other dietary benefits for magnesium as well, such as keeping muscles and nerves functioning, regulating blood sugar, and treats hypertension. The recommended daily amount (RDA) is 420 milligrams (mg) for adult men and 320 mg for adult women.

Magnesium is found in:

  • almonds
  • avocado
  • beans
  • bran cereal
  • brown rice
  • cashews
  • chocolate
  • cereal (Shredded Wheat)
  • edamame (immature soybeans)

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that’s essential for smooth brain function. The element helps stabilize moods. Deficiencies in selenium, of which adults need at least 55 micrograms (mcg) daily, have been linked to anxiety and depression.

Selenium is found in the following foods:

  • Brazil nuts
  • tuna
  • halibut
  • sardines
  • ham
  • shrimp
  • steak
  • turkey
  • beef liver

Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid which helps make melatonin and serotonin, which help you sleepy and happy, respectively. A recent study–the same one that showed magnesium can reduce mania symptoms–showed that tryptophan, too, can help mania. 

Tryptophan is often associated with Thanksgiving dinner, specifically turkey, but in reality, turkey only boasts as much of the amino acid as chicken. A pork chop has more, as does soybeans. Tryptophan can also be found in eggs, tofu, and cheese, so don’t worry if you don’t like turkey; you have plenty of options.

Probiotics

Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria that is healthy for your gut. Research about the biome of our intestines is a hot topic. The microbes there have been shown in studies to release serotonin, which helps keep bipolar people on an even keel.

Probiotics can be found in:

  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • kombucha
  • sauerkraut
  • kimchi
  • miso

Dark Chocolate

One-and-a-half ounces of 70% dark chocolate daily is the recommended dose to lower stress hormones, according to a recent study. And who doesn’t like dark chocolate? However, be careful with your dose of chocolate, as cacao beans contain caffeine, and chocolate itself contains sugar, both of which are foods you want to avoid (see Part II).

Saffron

Saffron is a red spice shaped like a thread found in dishes from India. Studies have shown that saffron extract is as effective an antidepressant as Prozac. The spice is expensive on its own, however, so take care when filling the shopping cart and cooking with it. A little goes a long way.

In short, while there is no specific diet for bipolar disorder, incorporating these foods may help manage your manic and depressive episodes. However, foods are no replacement for a comprehensive treatment plan from your doctor. Experiment with diet, but keep to your psychiatrist’s recommendations. Happy eating!

Keep an eye out for Part II: Foods to Avoid.

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Bipolar Disorder Manifests Differently in People Who Binge Eat

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Credit to flickr.com user Percy Germany. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

According to a 2013 Mayo Clinic study, bipolar disorder manifests differently in people who also binge eat than those who are just obese. The research is published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The Mayo Clinic, Lindner Center of HOPE, and the University of Minnesota scientists found that just under ten percent of people with bipolar disorder binge eat, a higher percentage than the general population. Binge eaters who also suffer bipolar disorder are more likely to develop other mental health issues, including suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and substance abuse.

Contrast this to bipolar patients with obesity, who are more likely to suffer physical problems, such as diabetes and arthritis. Binge eating and obesity were both more common in women than men.

The researchers also found that when bipolar patients are suffering from a mood episode, they are more likely to binge eat. More studies are planned to pinpoint whether binge eating has a genetic link to bipolar disorder.

The Mayo Clinic team is hopeful that more personalized treatments that do not have weight gain as a side effect will become available in the future.

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