Bipolar disorder is a complicated mental health condition that provides experts plenty of food for thought. In fact, mental health experts agree there are foods that are helpful and foods that are harmful in dealing with the ups and downs of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood highs and lows that may include depressive and manic episodes that present over the course of days or weeks. While some people only experience minor mood variations, some experience severe depression and mania. Bipolar is treated with therapy and medications to help stabilize moods and help patients live normal lives. Patients also need to take responsibility for their overall health and in particular, their diets, to allow medication to work optimally and to allow their body and mind to function at its best. There are foods that are recommended to help prevent bipolar episodes and foods that are thought to trigger them. 

Foods That Help

Studies show that a healthy, whole-foods diet that includes unprocessed foods, fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu, low-fat dairy and other low-fat proteins is linked with better outcomes for bipolar patients than the usual western diet of high-fat, highly refined, junk food diets many people eat. It's also thought to be better than vegetarian and vegan diets because it provides more protein, healthy fats and micronutrients associated with better brain function and overall health. In addition the high fat foods associated with junk food diets can impede absorption of medications and add to weight gain.

It's also recommended that patients eat at least two servings of fish per week or take an Omega 3 fish-oil supplement. The oils obtained from fish are thought to improve brain health in areas specifically associated with mood and behavior. If fish isn't your thing, omega-3 fatty acids are also present in many seeds and nuts.

Foods That Hurt

Fast foods, processed foods, refined carbohydrates, high-fat foods, salty foods are bad choices for people living with bipolar disorder. That's because these foods allow blood sugar to spike and crash, which can lead to alterations in mood. They also lead to weight gain, which is already a common issue for patients taking some bipolar medications. These foods are low in nutrition too so even though they might be filling, they're generally low in the nutrients we need to promote overall health and especially brain health. 

Caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate and many soft drinks is also on the "no" list because it disrupts sleep and can make people feel jittery and anxious. Don't give up your morning brew cold turkey though. Taper off gradually and replace your caffeine habit with healthier choices like non-caffeinated teas and water. 

Alcohol is a big problem for patients with bipolar disorder. It can be dangerous and even life threatening to combine alcohol with many common medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. It can also trigger episodes of depression and dull inhibitions during manic episodes. 

Keep an eye on your salt intake. Too much or too little can alter medication levels, especially if you're taking lithium. Avoid salty foods, but don't give up salt altogether.

If you're dealing with bipolar disorder, ask your physician for diet and nutrition guidelines and if possible, consult with a nutritionist with experience working with patients with mood disorders to make sure you're getting the best possible nutrition. 

Debra Warner, PsyD, reviewed this article.




National Institutes of Mental Health - Bipolar Disorder