Eating properly if you have bipolar disorder

Alleviate bipolar disorder with diet

Anyone who suffers from bipolar disorder – also known as manic-depressive illness – experiences strong mood swings again and again. Manic phases with excessive euphoria alternate with depressive phases full of sadness and hopelessness. We explain how probiotics can help with bipolar disorder in our corresponding article (see previous link).

Bipolar disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses. In Germany, the proportion of those affected is estimated at 1 percent, in the USA it is 2.8 percent (3) and the proportion of the world population is 0.6 percent, which at 7.93 billion people is more than 47 million people ( 2) – and thus numerically corresponds to the total population of Spain. According to a study at the Medical Center of the Penn State University improve symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Excessive omega-6 fatty acids damage the brain

The focus of the change in diet was the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Because autopsies had shown that an excess of arachidonic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) in the brain with a simultaneous deficiency of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid – a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) is involved in the development of a bipolar disorder and also in its progression ( 7). The combination of too much omega 6 and too little omega 3 is considered to promote inflammation, promote pain and generally promote disease.

Bipolar disorder improves after a change in diet

On the study, published in July 2021 in the trade journal Bipolar Disorders published (1), more than 80 people with bipolar disorder participated. Half of them immediately reduced foods high in omega-6 fatty acids (red meat, eggs and certain edible oils), while eating more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. flaxseed and oily fish ( Tuna, salmon)).

The control group also received advice on nutrition, but only those that had no noticeable impact on health. Both groups should continue to take their usual (mood-stabilizing) medication. Twice a day, the participants documented all changes in their state of health and their symptoms on their smartphones. In addition, regular blood tests were carried out, with which one could not only check the fatty acid level and other relevant parameters, but also whether the subjects were following the dietary instructions.

After 12 weeks, the mood swings in the omega group had significantly improved, which was not the case in the control group.

Omega-3 capsules for bipolar disorder

As early as 2003 it was found that people who ate more fish and seafood than others were less likely to develop bipolar disorder and other mental health problems (5). Fatty sea fish and seafood are very good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

A study from 2012, however, showed that dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil capsules had no effect on bipolar disorder (8 g fish oil daily (divided into two 4 g doses) with 70 percent omega-3 fatty acids and an EPA-DHA ratio of 3: 2) (6).

However, an analysis of several studies from the same year indicates that a differentiation must be made here. An omega-3 dietary supplement definitely helped to alleviate depressive phases, but not the manic phases, so that the intake of omega-3 fatty acids can always be used in addition to bipolar disorder (8).

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We recommend capsules with omega-3 fatty acids from algae oil, especially since the consumption of fish is not recommended for ecological reasons and fish can be contaminated with heavy metals, for which you can find further information in the previous link.

Omega-3 fatty acids mimic the effects of drugs

Dr. Erika Saunders, study author and professor at the Faculty of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Penn State University explains that drugs that are normally prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorder change the way the body metabolizes fatty acids in such a way that anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving breakdown products are created and thus have an effect in the first place.

If you now add those fatty acids through your diet that have an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect when metabolized, you could – according to the thesis of the researchers – imitate the mechanism of action of the drugs.

Avoid vegetable oils rich in omega-6

The diet described above not only reduced arachidonic acid, which is only contained in animal foods, but also another omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is contained in particularly high quantities in some vegetable oils, e.g. B. in sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil. As an alternative z. B. olive oil, rapeseed oil and, for raw vegetables, also the omega-3-rich oils linseed oil, hemp oil and walnut oil.

Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly helpful in severe cases

Since the original severity of the bipolar disorder was not identical in the two groups, there is also criticism of the study. Because a comparison is not so easy to make in this way. However, the omega group even had a significantly more difficult course, so that one can certainly assume that a change in diet can be useful, especially in the case of a severe course of a bipolar disorder.

If you have bipolar disorder, change your diet altogether

When changing your diet, however, you should by no means rely solely on an increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids with a simultaneous reduction in omega-6 fatty acids, but rather switch to a healthy diet as a whole. This consists of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grain products and high quality protein sources. Because studies always show a lower risk of mental disorders with such a diet, while the typical Western diet is associated with an increased risk.

The influence of diet on mental health is explained by the so-called gut-brain axis. So the quality of the diet promotes gut health – and a healthy gut affects brain health. How exactly the gut-brain axis works is explained in our article on how probiotics can reduce stress (9).

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