Bipolar disorder can be a complex and contentious mental health condition. However, there are ways to combat these complications, one of which is to build a proper bipolar diet. With the right foods and nutrients, you can calm symptoms and improve overall mental health from the foods and nutrients you take.
We’re going to look at bipolar disorder, what the symptoms are, what a proper bipolar diet looks like, and how you can incorporate them into daily life. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that alters the way one’s mood is expressed and how it rapidly changes, from high to low. It’s a cyclic disorder, often moving from one elevated emotional state to a depressive one. Additionally, bipolar disorder is actually a set of four distinct disorders that range in severity as well as in their symptoms. ¹
The four disorders are:
- Bipolar 1
- Bipolar 2
- Cyclothymic disorder
- Mixed Features
What are Bipolar Symptoms?
Those dealing with bipolar usually have high and low episodes. The highs are manic fluctuations and the lows are depressive swings. There is also an extremely high subset that is classified as hypomania.
Mania is a common class of symptoms for bipolar disorder. It includes periods of great excitement, euphoria, delusions, or overactivity. Those experiencing mania or a manic-related episode might have the following sub-symptoms to their overlying mania: ²
- Dabbling in behavior(s) deemed risky
- Distracted easily
- Fast in speech and movements
- Feeling wired or naturally high
- Heightened sensations, especially in smell and touch
- Increase in energy
- Interrupting, racing, or intrusive thoughts
Depression or depressive-related symptoms are common in those that suffer from bipolar disorders. They often develop in cycles, much like mania or hypomania, and often make it difficult for the patient to function normally. It’s also common for those suffering from bipolar disorders to experience depression with large amounts of energy and to have deep depressive episodes a couple of times a year. ³
Those that struggle with a depressive-related episode might experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Complications in paying attention, concentration, and decision-making
- Experiencing little to no energy
- Hard time getting up and out of bed in the morning or during the day
- Little to no joy, wonder, or excitement
- Over- or under-eating
- Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Hypomania is a subset of mania but it’s less severe than regular mania or manic episodes. Those that experience hypomania might actually feel good or even better than they usually do, and they feel that their mania isn’t out of control.
Although it’s always best to air on the side of caution if you or someone you love is suffering from hypomania. Hypomania, if gone unchecked, can spiral into full-blown mania, causing interruptions or complications in a patient’s day-to-day life.
What’s the Best Diet for Bipolar Disorder?
When building a bipolar diet, you should look for organic, nutrient-rich foods that will help ease symptoms. Such foods can help with strengthening your cognitive functionality. There are also foods that reduce depression and specific ingredients that can assist with more natural treatments.
1.) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are in proteins and fresh seafood, as well as dietary supplements. As for bipolar disorder, omega-3s have been found to be a therapeutic option in order to treat symptoms. ⁴ Omega-3s have shown to be beneficial in reducing the quality of depressive episodes and can decrease the intensity of anxiety. ⁵
Most clinicians feel safe with their patients taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in order to subside the depressive swings as long as it’s in measured doses and monitored closely. Doses are usually in quantities of 1 to 2 grams per day, ensuring that the supplement is an EPA+DHA blend of Omega-3s with 60% of EPA. Most clinicians also advise that Omega-3s are not taken by themselves for BPD and be taken in conjunction with a mood stabilizer or an antidepressant. ⁶
Turkey, most commonly associated with a Thanksgiving dinner, is actually beneficial for those dealing with bipolar disorder. Although the taste of turkey can be appealing, its benefits lie within the chemical compounds that are within the meat itself.
Turkey contains tryptophan which can create a calming, almost sedative effect on those that consume it. Consequently, for those with bipolar disorder, this sedative effect can actually quell aggression, which is common for those having manic highs. ⁷
Probiotics are live bacteria that are found in fermented foods or foods that take time to age. This can be in dairy products like aged cheeses and yogurt. Probiotics can also be found in pickles, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some cheeses. Probiotics can improve symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, and memory. ⁸
4.) Whole Grains
Eating whole wheat may seem like an insignificant change, however, it contains several health benefits which can help with bipolar disorder. Whole grains are found in a lot of bread varieties and carbohydrate products like rice, pasta, and oatmeal. Carbohydrates provide the body of energy, though it also increases levels of serotonin. Serotonin help stabilizes mood and alleviates mood swings. ⁹
5.) Selenium-Rich Foods
Selenium is a mineral that is commonly found in protein-rich foods like eggs, certain seafood, poultry, seeds, and nuts. Selenium is a necessary nutrient that can help greatly with thyroid complications while also having mood-stabilizing effects as well.
A lack of selenium can increase episodes and experiences of depression and anxiety, both of which are common complications for those with bipolar disorder. ¹⁰
Traditionally used as a cooking spice, saffron also has some key health benefits that most aren’t aware of. Saffron has great antioxidants, which help maintain a healthy immune system, and its being seen as a useful and natural treatment for depression. Saffron has shown great promise in dealing with the negative effects of depression, the comparison of its effects matching fluoxetine. ¹¹
7.) Dark Chocolate
Typically dark dark chocolate is a sweet, bitter alternative to milk chocolate in a variety of candy bars, drinks, and baked goods. Surprisingly there are some health benefits to consuming dark chocolate on a regular basis. Most of these benefits affect brain chemistry and brain structuring which is immensely helpful for those dealing with the complexities of bipolar symptoms.
For those with depressive swings that have bipolar, dark chocolate can be a natural and safe treatment to help boost endorphins and ease depressive symptoms. ¹² Dark chocolate has mood-boosting properties and shown promise in clearing mental fatigue, which are common complications of those dealing with bipolar on a regular basis. ¹³
8.) Herbal Tea
Herbal teas have grown in popularity both as a drink as well as for their different health benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety and can help balance moods. For these reasons and much more (including strengthening the immune system), teas are a safe and soothing way to combat mental fatigue, aggression, and mood swings. There has also been research that shows herbal teas, when drank regularly, can ward off depressive swings and boost moods. ¹⁴
Nuts of varying varieties, including pine nuts, peanuts, almonds, and cashews, contain a vital mineral called magnesium. Magnesium is severely lacking in the average adult American’s diet and deficiency often causes muscle cramps, overall fatigue, and worsening mental health complications.¹⁵
Such mental health conditions that seem to deteriorate under low magnesium levels are anxiety, depression, and numbing of an emotional state. ¹⁶ Adding nuts to a bipolar diet can ensure that magnesium levels are maintained and that degradation of one’s mental state cannot be explained away from magnesium deficiency.
Beans are a great source of protein, which is necessary in order to build muscle as well as help our bodies function. Additionally, they contain essential vitamins including Vitamin B.
Vitamin B helps in cell metabolization, maintaining energy levels, and regulating brain chemistry. For those with bipolar disorder, adding beans to their bipolar diet can increase the vitamin B levels in the patient which can reign in complications that they are having with their brain chemistry. ¹⁷
Foods to Avoid with Bipolar Disorder
Alongside foods to consume, it’s also important to identify foods that may seem helpful but are in fact more harmful to the mental disorder.
Foods that contain tyramine, an amino acid that naturally occurs in foods like aged cheeses, processed and smoked meats as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut are not a wise choice. Tyramine is not wise for those with bipolar disorder as that it often interacts with common bipolar medications which can worsen symptoms. It also can increase blood pressure and lead to weight gain which has shown complications in bipolar patients.
Similarly, refined and processed foods can cause energy levels, anxiety, and mood set to shift, creating an unbalance in the highs and lows for those with bipolar.
Medications to Avoid with Bipolar Disorder
When trying to treat bipolar disorder, it’s understandable to look at pharmaceutical medications. Tremendous advancements in prescription medication have been made, especially for mental health situations. Consequently, bipolar disorder has become heavily medicated. That being said, it’s best for those with bipolar to avoid specific treatment options.
Benzodiazepines may worsen symptoms for some individuals. It has links to increased impulsivity and an increase in suicidal thoughts and self-harm behaviors. They also can be easily habit-forming, leading to an addiction. ¹⁸
Additionally, antidepressants are often prescribed in order to lessen the impact of a depressive swing. Although it’s a rational idea to try antidepressants, it may not be beneficial for you. Most antidepressants have bad interactions with other common medications that are used for bipolar treatment. Add that to the fact that those on antidepressants have heightened levels of suicidal ideation, it’s a recipe for complications. ¹⁹
Without a doubt, change can be difficult. Additionally adjusting to change can be an especially difficult process for those dealing with a complex mental health condition like bipolar disorder. That being said, creating lasting change is done through consistent and balanced practices. It can be daunting to attempt to consume all these foods, at the right levels, to get the desired output.
On the other hand, by striking a balance of picking good choices for structured meals, you’ll start to see the changes speak for themselves. You’ll start to feel better, have a clearer head, and ideally have stable emotional wellbeing. Having a proper bipolar diet with exercise can greatly reduce the severity of bipolar symptoms.
The work can seem daunting but there are online communities, message boards, and resources to help guide you in the right direction. There are also meal guides, physical and mental exercise recommendations, and social activities that can make incorporating these changes less of a struggle and more of an adventure.
Still have questions about building a bipolar diet?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on this topic – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Mayo Clinic: Bipolar Disorder
² National Institute of Health: Bipolar Disorder – Signs and Symptoms
³ National Alliance on Mental Illness: Borderline Depressive Symptoms
⁴ National Library of Medicine: Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of borderline personality disorder
⁵ Linder Center of Hope: Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Borderline Personality Disorder
⁶ Harvard Health Publishing: Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders
⁷ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Tryptophan association with borderline personality disorder
⁸ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms
⁹ Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Carbs are essential for effective dieting and good mood
¹⁰ National Library of Medicine: Depression and suicidal behavior in adolescents: possible role of selenium deficiency
¹¹ Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine: Is Saffron Safer than Fluoxetine for the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression
¹² National Library of Medicine: Relationship between chocolate consumption and symptoms of depression
¹³ National Library of Medicine: Acute and sub-chronic effects of cocoa flavanols on mood
¹⁴ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Mechanisms Underlying the Anti-Depressive Effects of Regular Tea Consumption
¹⁵ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Disorders of Magnesium Metabolism
¹⁶ National Library of Medicine: Hypomagnesaemia linked to depression
¹⁷ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Mood disorder with mixed, psychotic features due to vitamin b12 deficiency
¹⁸ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Psychopharmacologic treatment of borderline personality disorder
¹⁹ National Center for Biotechnical Information: Antidepressant‐Induced Suicidality