If you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, you know how important it is to manage mood episodes with bipolar medications and healthy lifestyle habits. But did you also know that certain foods and dietary supplements might play a role in helping – or hindering – people with bipolar disorder?
Is there a diet for bipolar disorder?
There is no specific bipolar diet. Nevertheless, it is important to make wise dietary choices that will help you maintain a healthy weight and stay well. These choices include:
- Avoiding the “Western” style diet that’s rich in red meats, saturated fats and trans fats, and simple carbohydrates. This eating style is linked to a higher risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Eating less saturated fats and simple carbohydrates can help overall health but does not directly affect the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Eating a balance of protective, nutrient-dense foods, which include fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, cold-water fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, soy products, and nuts and seeds. These foods provide the levels of nutrients necessary to maintain good health and prevent disease in general.
- Watching caloric intake and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Some findings show that persons with bipolar disorder may have a greater risk for being overweight and obese. Talk to your doctor about ways to avoid weight gain when taking bipolar medications.
Does fish oil improve mood episodes associated with bipolar disorder?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish at least two times a week. Good choices include:
If you do not like fish, the AHA recommends taking 0.5 to 1.8 grams of fish oil per day as supplements. In this way you will get enough dietary omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
Fish oil can help keep your heart healthy, but some experts also believe that fish oil might play a role in brain function and behaviour. While studies of omega-3 fatty acids for mood symptoms are not conclusive, some experts believe that they may be helpful in some people with bipolar disorder, particularly if they have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease or high triglycerides.
Some research suggests that getting more omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil is linked to greater volume in areas of the brain. In particular, these areas are related to mood and behaviour. In one study of 75 patients, one of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids was decreasing depression in persons with bipolar disorder.
Still, the overall evidence for the benefits of fish oil in bipolar disorder is inconsistent. More studies are needed before fish oil can be recommended as a proven treatment for bipolar disorder.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking for possible benefits of fish oil, go with nuts. Walnuts, flax seed and canola oil contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted to omega-3 fatty acid in the body.
Which foods should I avoid if I have bipolar disorder?
Some general dietary recommendations for treating bipolar disorder include:
- Getting only moderate amounts of caffeine and not stopping caffeine use abruptly.
- Avoiding high-fat meals to lower the risk for obesity.
- Watching your salt intake if you have high blood pressure but not skimping on salt if you are being prescribed lithium (low salt intake can cause higher levels of lithium in the blood)
- Following your doctor’s instructions to stay away from foods that may affect your specific bipolar medication, if any.
Avoiding too much caffeine may be helpful for getting good sleep, which is especially important for people with bipolar disorder. When someone with bipolar disorder is feeling depressed, extra caffeine may temporarily cause a boost in energy, and possibly mood. The problem is that caffeine can disrupt sleep. Caffeine can also cause nervousness, heart palpitations and headaches, worsen high blood pressure, or cause irritation in the stomach or oesophagus in people that have acid reflux.
In addition to lowering caffeine, it’s important to avoid high-fat meals with some bipolar medications. High-fat meals may delay the time it takes for some bipolar medications to be absorbed into your system. Talk to your doctor about your medications and necessary dietary changes.
If you take MAO inhibitors (a certain class of antidepressant that includes Emsam, Nardil, and Parnate), it’s important to avoid tyramine-containing foods. These foods can cause severe hypertension in people taking MAO inhibitors. Some foods high in tyramine are:
- Overly ripe bananas
- Tap beer
- Fermented cheese
- Aged meats
- Some wines, such as Chianti
- Soy sauce in high quantities
Your doctor can give you a list of foods to avoid if you take the above-mentioned drugs.
Also, avoid taking natural dietary supplements if you are taking bipolar medications. Supplements such as St. John’s Wort and SAM-e are touted to treat moderate depression. A few studies show benefit for some people with depression, but these natural therapies can interact with antidepressants and other bipolar medications. Discuss any natural dietary supplement with your doctor to make sure it is safe.
Source: Web MD