In a new study from Penn State, researchers found specific dietary guidelines help people living with bipolar disorders better manage their health.
They found that a diet designed to alter levels of specific fatty acids consumed by participants may help patients have less variability in their mood.
Bipolar disorders, which affect up to 2.4% of the population, are mental health conditions where individuals experience cyclic and abnormally elevated and/or depressed mood states.
During acute episodes, parts of the brain that regulate emotions are underactive, leading to either manic highs or depressive lows.
Researchers are identifying ways to help patients with the symptoms they experience between episodes, which can include pain, anxiety, impulsivity, and irritability.
In the study, the team designed a diet to alter the levels of specific polyunsaturated fatty acids—nutrients found in many foods—participants consumed while participating in usual care for bipolar disorders, including mood-stabilizing medication.
Prior research showed that medications for treating bipolar disorders change the way bodies break down, or metabolize, fatty acids.
The byproducts of this process activate different parts of the immune system and include other chemical processes that affect how the body perceives pain, a common symptom reported by people living with bipolar disorders.
The researchers hypothesized that by changing the type and amount of fatty acids consumed, the body would generate metabolites with specific purposes, such as reducing pain or inflammation.
The experimental diet decreased omega-6 fatty acid consumption by limiting red meat, eggs, and certain oils, and increased omega-3 fatty acid consumption by adding flax seed and fatty fishes like tuna and salmon.
To keep participants unaware of which group they were in, the team gave participants specific meal plans with instructions on how to prepare their food as well as unlabeled cooking oils and specially prepared snack foods and baked products.
More than 80 people with bipolar disorders participated in diet counseling and were given specific foods to eat for a 12-week period. Twice a day they completed surveys on their mobile devices about their mood, pain, and other symptoms.
Throughout the study participants also had bloodwork taken so researchers could measure fatty acid levels and how the food was affecting their bodies.
According to the researchers, the experimental diet improved mood variability in patients with bipolar disorders.
The carefully constructed nutrition plan shows promise for regulating mood between manic and depressive episodes.
In the future, the research team will continue to assess how fatty acid metabolites may affect pain in bipolar disorders.
If you care about depression and anxiety, please read studies about why people with diabetes have high risk of depression and findings of this common nutrient could help treat depression.
For more information about mental health, please see recent studies about vitamin D deficiency linked to depression in older people and results showing that scientists discover three types of depression.
The study is published in Bipolar Disorders. One author of the study is Erika Saunders.
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