There is no specific bipolar diet. However, certain dietary choices will help you stay healthy and may help you control other triggers like stress. There are foods that you should definitely stay away from if you have bipolar disorder. On the other hand, there are others that will help control the illness.
Bipolar disorder is also called manic-depressive disorder. With episodes of elevated or depressed mood, this mental illness is characterized by shifting mood swings that can occur as often as several times a day or as rarely as a few times a year. There is a rarer form of the disorder in which the sufferer has depression and mania at the same time. In any case, there are specific dietary changes found to help bipolar disorder patients manage the symptoms of this disease.
Foods to Avoid
If you suffer from bipolar disorder one of the major things to avoid is caffeine. This isn’t just coffee but all the caffeinated beverages and sports drinks including tea and even chocolate. Caffeine can disrupt your sleep (a trigger for bipolar episodes) and alter your mood. Often those who are depressed will use caffeine to boost a low mood. The problem is that it doesn’t stay elevated. Caffeine can also reduce the sedative effects of medications like benzodiazepines, which are used to treat the mania symptoms of bipolar disorder.
High fat foods should also be avoided. Eating a lo of red meats, saturated fats, trans fats and simple carbohydrates not only can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease but it can also make the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse. High fat foods can also interfere with some bipolar medications or make them take longer to work.
If you are on lithium for bipolar disorder you need to watch your salt intake. A diet that has too much or too little salt can alter the therapeutic response to the drug.
It is really important to talk to your doctor about your medications and stay away from foods that may interact with your specific bipolar medication. This is particularly true about MAO inhibitors – this specific class of antidepressant drugs includes Nardil and Parnate. If you are taking these drugs it is important to avoid foods that contain tyramine which can increase the drugs activity and can cause severe hypertension. If you take these drugs ask your doctor for a complete list of foods to avoid.
Foods High in Tyramine include:
- Fermented cheese
- Specific wines, including Chianti
- Soy sauce
It is similarly important to stay away from alcohol if you have bipolar disorder. A central nervous system sedative, alcohol works as a tranquilizer and can make you more depressed. Many of those with bipolar disorder try to self-medicate with alcohol which in fact makes their mood swings worse. Alcohol is one of the main triggers for depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. Many of the medications used to treat the disorder warn against alcohol use.
Grapefruit juice may also need to be on your ‘do-not-consume’ list depending on your medication. This is because the juice can increase the amount of these medicines that are found in the blood. Talk to your doctor about the risk of drinking grapefruit juice if you take the benzodiazepines that include Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, or Ativan. Grapefruit juice can cause toxicity and increase impairment.
Foods to Choose
There is some research on bipolar disorder that indicates sufferers are at greater risk for obesity. It is necessary that you learn to watch your caloric intake and have a regular exercise program in order to maintain your proportionate weight. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods is a good choice for those with bipolar disorder. These foods include:
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh Vegetables
- Whole grains
- Lean meat
- Cold water fish
- Low-fat dairy
- Soy products
- Nuts and seeds
Another important discovery has many experts saying that fish and fish oil are an important element in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Fish oil is known to keep your heart healthy but it is also an important ingredient in maintaining brain health and behavior. Omega-3 fatty acids which are found in fish oil are noted by many experts to be an important nutrient for those who suffer from bipolar disorder, especially if they also suffer from elevated triglycerides or heart disease.
It has been suggested that a higher intake of Omega-3 fatty acids can be linked to greater volume in areas of the brain that are associated to mood and behavior. Some research studies have indicated that with an increase in Omega-3s, those suffering from bipolar disease might decrease depressive episodes.
Omega 3 oil can be found in fatty fish. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week. Good choices include:
- Albacore tuna
For some recommendations on supplements that might help along with watching what you eat, see here.
It is important to check with your doctor before adding natural supplements to your diet. Some supplements, for instance St. John’s Wort, can interact with antidepressants and other bipolar medications.