Mental Health Assessment – Food & Bipolar Disorder
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder through a mental health assessment, then you are aware of the importance of managing your mood episodes with medication and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits. However, were you also aware that there are certain foods and supplements that could play a role in helping or hindering those who have this condition?
What is Bipolar Disorder: Mental Health Assessment
The condition of bipolar disorder is complex, defined by dramatic/unusual episodes of high/low moods. These episodes, known as depression and mania, can range from mild to extreme in severity/intensity. Individuals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may have episodes that come on gradually over many days/weeks or suddenly over a few days. In order to qualify as an episode, these symptoms must occur as a constellation that have an effect on mood, sleep, thinking, behavior, and energy and must last for several days.
In the condition of bipolar disorder, the individual may experience episodes of extreme elation/energy or major depression. Elation is referred to as mania. The mood episodes of this condition are accompanied by changes in perception, social functioning, and thinking.
In the past, experts believed that about 1 percent of the population was affected by this condition- but now it is believed that it’s higher, perhaps 3-4 percent. There are no lab tests that can be used to diagnose this condition and the symptoms often overlap with those of other psychiatric conditions. This is why bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed and undertreated.
Bipolar Disorder Diet
While there is no specific diet for bipolar disorder, it is critical that you make wise choices that will help with maintaining a healthy weight and staying healthy. These choices include the following:
- Avoid the “Western” diet rich in red meats, simple carbs, trans fats, and saturated fats. This style of eating is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. By decreasing your consumption of saturated fats, you will not directly affect your bipolar disorder symptoms, but will have an effect on your overall health.
- Increase your consumption of nutrient-dense, protective foods such as legumes, fresh fruits/veggies, cold-water fish, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts/seeds, lean meats, soy products, and eggs. These foods will give you the nutrients you need to maintain good health and avoid disease.
- Pay attention to your caloric intake and get plenty of exercise in order to maintain a healthy weight. Some studies have shown that individuals who have bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of being overweight/obese. Talk with your physician about some ways you can avoid the weight gain that often comes with taking medications to control bipolar.
Fish Oil & Bipolar Disorder
According to the American Heart Association, you should consume fatty fish at least twice a week. Some good options include:
- Albacore Tuna
If you are not a fan of fish, the AHA recommends that you take at 0.5-1.8 grams of fish oil supplements daily. This will give you sufficient amounts of omega-3 fatty acids of DHA and EPA.
We are aware that fish oil is beneficial for heart health, but some experts are also saying that fish oil could play a role in behavior and brain functioning. At this time, studies on the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids for the treatment of mood symptoms are not clear- but some experts feel that this could be beneficial in those who have high triglycerides and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some research indicates that consuming more omega-3 fatty acids is linked to increased brain volume, especially in the areas that are related to behavior and mood. One study of 75 patients revealed that depression symptoms in those with bipolar disorder is just one of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Still, the evidence of the benefits of fish oil for those with bipolar is not consistent. More studies are required before fish oil is recommended as a treatment for this condition.
Foods to Avoid with Bipolar Disorder
General dietary recommendations for treatment of bipolar disorder include:
- Moderate amounts of caffeine- don’t stop using caffeine suddenly
- Avoid high-fat meals (decreases risk of obesity)
- Watch salt consumption to avoid high blood pressure- but don’t skimp if your physician has prescribed lithium
- Avoid foods that could negatively interact with your bipolar medication
- Be aware of any herbal supplements that could cause negative interactions with your medications
Of course, avoiding excessive caffeine consumption could help you sleep better, which is critical for individuals with bipolar. If you are experiencing a depression episode, caffeine may give you a temporary boost of energy and mood- but it can cause your sleep to be disrupted. In addition, caffeine can have other effects such as headaches, nervousness, increased blood pressure, stomach/esophagus irritation, and heart palpitations.
In addition to decreasing your caffeine consumptions, you should also avoid high-fat meals, as these can delay the time that it takes for your bipolar medication to be absorbed. Discuss your medications with your physician and any dietary changes you need to make.
If you are taking MAOIs, it’s critical to avoid foods that contain tyramine, as these can result in hypertension. These foods include:
- Aged meats
- Fermented cheese
- High levels of soy sauce
- Overly ripe bananas/banana peels
- Some wines, including Chianti
- Tap beer
Your physician can provide you with a list of these foods if he prescribes an MAOI for you.
In addition, if you are taking medications for bipolar, you will want to avoid taking natural supplements as well. Though some studies indicate that SAM-e and St. John’s Wort are effective for treating moderate depression, these can interact with prescription bipolar medications. Before you take a natural supplement, make sure that you discuss it with your physician regarding safety.
Alcohol & Bipolar Disorder
Most psychiatric medications come with a warning to avoid alcohol consumption- but people who have bipolar do frequently abuse alcohol and drugs. This abuse is often an attempt to self-medicate/treat their symptoms- but can also cause symptoms that mimic those of bipolar.
Alcohol acts as a depressant, which is why people often use it as a tranquilizer at the end of a stressful day or to help them with tense social situations. Some individuals may stop drinking when they experience symptoms of depression, but it’s more common that they will end up drinking more when they are feeling low. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals with bipolar are 5x more likely to develop dependence upon and misuse of alcohol than the rest of the population.
The link between bipolar and substance abuse is well established- approximately 15 percent of adults with a psychiatric illness have a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse can cause a disruption in bipolar disorder treatments and must be treated individually.
Grapefruit Juice and Bipolar
Before eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice, be sure to speak with your physician or pharmacist about interactions with your medications. Grapefruit juice is known for increasing the blood levels of many medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder.
Should Bipolar Medications be Taken with or without Food?
All medications are not created equal, so make sure that you speak with your physician before you take the first dose. Some medications need to be taken with food and some need to be taken on an empty stomach. Your physician or pharmacist will be able to give you the latest recommendations on your medication so that you can safely take it and get the full benefit.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder through a mental health assessment and have been prescribed medication, you need to know more about the type of diet you must be consuming for your medication to work properly.