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Believe it or not, your diet may be contributing to your symptoms of bipolar disorder. Let me start by telling you a story…
Several years back I was working with a young woman, we’ll call her Sue, who lived in Maine. Sue had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I, and every 10 days she would cycle from major depression into psychotic mania. In the manic states, she would end up either in jail or in the psychiatric hospital. Her doctors tried medication after medication and still, Sue cycled. This is when they called me.
One of the most important tenants in treating bipolar disorder is understanding that the body produces symptoms in an effort to provide data about in what ways it is out of balance. My job is to collect as much data as possible so that we can identify the root cause(s) and create individualized treatment programs.
We did a battery of tests to get to the root cause of Sue’s symptoms among which was genetic testing. Results revealed several findings, one of which was that her body did not process shellfish. Remember that I mentioned she lived in Maine? Shellfish was a staple of her diet. She ate it almost every day.
In addition to a myriad of other interventions, Sue cleaned up her diet. She reduced inflammatory foods, focused on whole foods, limited alcohol, and most importantly, removed shellfish.
Within 24 hours Sue reported a lessening of brain fog and over the next year and a half of care, her mood stabilized and her symptoms of bipolar disorder lifted.
Research has shown that those with bipolar disorder typically consumed greater amounts of carbohydrates, sugar, desserts, sucrose, alcoholic beverages, and sweetened beverages. (Lopresti & Jacka, 2015). Those with this disorder also were more likely to eat more processed, “western” foods such as pizza, burgers, sugar, beer, and other pro-inflammatory foods. On the other hand, we have seen an inverse relationship between bipolar disorder incidence and seafood. Countries where seafood consumption was greater tended to have a lower incidence of bipolar disorder than those countries whose residents consumed little amounts of seafood. In a study by Noguchi et al, they found that those with bipolar ate less “vegetables, soy products, seaweed, and fish products.”
So the question that is raised is: How does diet influence bipolar disorder?
Diet influences several biological processes that are dysregulated in bipolar disorder. These are:
Monoaminergic activity refers to how certain foods or dietary patterns can directly impact the activity of your neurotransmitters. For example, sugar and carbohydrates suppress dopamine. Signs of excessive dopamine include those we typically see in mania, for example, intense excitement, euphoria, paranoia, and grandiosity. Low dopamine often produces symptoms that are more common for depression including anhedonia, lack of drive, and absent motivation. There are many more examples in the course!
Immune/ inflammatory processes refer to the relationship between inflammation and bipolar disorder incidence. As mentioned above, bipolar disorder risk goes significantly higher if you eat a “western” diet and your risk of bipolar disorder, as well as symptoms of bipolar disorder, reduce with an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet. (We have a whole course on antiinflammatory eating and eating to heal the gut, it’s called the Gut Psychology Course).
Oxidative stress causes damage to the brain and body and destabilizes brain function. Two of the key oxidative stress markers that we ran on Sue were: malondialdehyde (lipid peroxidation) and 8-hydroxy-2′-deoxyguanosine (DNA oxidation). We see that western diets are associated with increased markers and thus increased bipolar disorder risk, and not surprisingly, in terms of oxidative stress reduction, the best bipolar diet is a Mediterranean diet.
Your mitochondria are basically the battery for each and every cell in your body– especially and including your brain cells. Your diet impacts mitochondrial activity for the better and for the worse. The most powerful bipolar diet is one that will feed your mitochondria and allow them to power your cells in all of their millions of jobs around your body. Your diet can make your mitochondria more efficient, and your diet can destroy mitochondrial efficiency, thus putting you at a greater risk of a manic or depressive episode.
Lastly is neuroprogression. Neuroprogression refers to the growth and regeneration of your brain’s neurons. There are a wide variety of dietary changes that you can make to actually regenerate your brain. We won’t go into this here in this article, but let me give you a tip: the best diet for increasing neuroprogression is the Mediterranean diet. No surprise right?
Let’s do a quick Q and A about the bipolar disorder diet:
Q: What is the best diet for bipolar disorder:
A: The Mediterranean diet.
Q: What food is the best food to eat to relieve bipolar disorder mood episodes?
A: Seafood, not including shellfish. Focus on freshwater Alaskan fish.
Q: What are the top worst foods for bipolar disorder?
A: Basically anything on the western Standard American Diet. Fried foods, alcohol, red meat.
Q: Can diet actually help me heal from bipolar disorder?
A: The answer is yes and no. Remember, diet is one part (albeit a major part) of your body’s wellness. But remember that there are many factors that contribute to bipolar disorder including Genetic, environmental, familial, trauma, socioeconomic, dietary, and more. Remember our story about Sue– we did comprehensive bipolar disorder testing and while the diet was a big factor for her, it was not the only one.
Q: What is one change I can make to start healing from bipolar disorder?
A: Remove obstacles to cure. This is deconstructed in my Gut Psychology Course. Examples of obstacles to cure are foods typically found in a western Standard American Diet.