It is said, “You are what you eat”. Our diet influences not only our physical health but also our mental health, including our mood. For example, a September 2015 study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research reported that certain fatty foods can lead to poor overall functioning in bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. It is characterized by wild mood swings, going from one extreme of low mood (depression) to the other extreme of elated mood (mania). Symptoms of bipolar disorder include feeling sad or hopeless and loss of interest in activities which were once pleasurable, during the low-mood phase. With the onset of high mood, you may feel euphoric, highly energetic or unusually irritable. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think. Episodes of mood swings can occur multiple times a year or rarely. Bipolar disorder responds well to treatment. Most such people go on to live normal lives. Its prognosis is better, compared to that of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.
Individuals with bipolar disorder also have a high prevalence of multiple chronic conditions, such as obesity and heart disease. So a healthy diet can reduce not only the symptoms of bipolar disorder but also the burden of these co-occurring illnesses.
Try skipping the following items, which can worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder:
- High-fat Meals: As noted above, a 2015 study showed that certain fatty foods can worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder. A high-fat diet can contribute to weight gain and thus worsen commonly co-occurring illnesses such as obesity and heart disease. In addition, high-fat meals may delay the absorption of some bipolar medications. Limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet by opting for lean protein and low-fat dairy products when choosing animal products.
- Caffeine: Any stimulant can trigger mania. And caffeine is a potent stimulant. Besides increasing irritability and anxiety, it can also impair sleep. Sleep deprivation can trigger mood swings and manic episodes in bipolar disorder. But do not stop caffeine intake abruptly as there can be withdrawal and rebound effects. Try to moderate the caffeine intake and avoid its intake altogether before bedtime.
- Alcohol: Alcohol intake worsens mood swings in bipolar disorder. It can also interact negatively with lithium, a mood stabilizer commonly prescribed in bipolar disorder. A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry in 2015 shows that alcohol intake in bipolar disorder can increase the risk of premature death.
- Salt: High salt intake can adversely affect your blood pressure, a co-occurring illness in bipolar disorder. The recommended daily intake of salt in adults is 1,500 mg or less per day. If you are taking lithium for your bipolar symptoms, do not skimp too much on salt intake because low salt intake can cause higher levels of lithium in the blood.
- Sugar: Excess sugar intake contributes to weight gain and can worsen existing obesity as often is the case in bipolar disorder. Excess sugar can decrease the effectiveness of some bipolar medications. If you have to satisfy your sweet tooth, then do so by consuming fruits.
- Tyramine-containing foods: If you are taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) for your depression or low moods in bipolar disorder, then avoid tyramine-containing foods. Intake of such foods can cause severe hypertension in people taking an MAOI. Examples of MAOI drugs are phenelzine (Nardil) and tranylcypromine (Parnate). Some foods high in tyramine are fermented cheese, overly ripe bananas and banana peels, aged meats, wines such as Chianti, high quantities of soy sauce, and tap beer.
- Grapefruit juice: Grapefruit juice may increase the blood levels of many psychiatric medications used in bipolar disorder. This can lead to excessive drowsiness, mental impairment and even toxicity.