Can an unhealthy diet play a role in triggering bipolar mood swings? According to recent research, the answer is “yes.” In fact, certain foods — such as caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods — could lead to worse outcomes, finds research in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research. It’s a good idea to follow national healthy diet guidelines, such as eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats. But you may also want to pay attention to some of the subtler points raised in this study.
“Evidence of poor diet in people with bipolar disorder is found in the altered metabolism of important healthy fats and is consistent with an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 intake in diet,” says study author Melvin G. McInnis, MD, the Thomas B. and Nancy Upjohn Woodworth professor of bipolar disorder and depression, and director of the Prechter Bipolar Research Program in the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Dr. McInnis explains that this means people with bipolar disorder should rebalance the types of fats in their diets to include more omega-3 fats, and fewer omega-6 fats. You only need a small amount of omega-6 fats each day, which come primarily from vegetable oils. Omega-3 fats come from sources such as salmon and other fatty coldwater fish, flaxseed, nuts, and certain plants, such as basil.
If you choose to eliminate bipolar-offending foods from your diet, you’ll do more than keep mood swings in check and reduce periods of mania: You’ll also improve your heart health. That’s important, because with bipolar disorder you’re at a greater risk of obesity and heart and vascular disease, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.