A Healthy Diet: Tips for Individuals With Bipolar Disorder

Patient Expert

Nutrition Expert Heather Reese explains what you need to know about creating a bipolar-conscious diet.

Two million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. This very serious illness involves dramatic mood swings from high manic episodes to very low depressed episodes. It can be very disruptive to the lives of the people who suffer from this illness as well as their close friends and family members. Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence and continues throughout life. While it can not be cured, with treatment these people can lead normal lives.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Bipolar disorder is not a condition that is generally considered to have direct nutritional considerations, like diabetes or heart disease. However, recent research has found that omega 3 fatty acids may lessen the symptoms of bipolar disorder. While research is still ongoing, studies have found that they lessen stress and aid in focusing.

Antidepressants and Weight Gain

There are special dietary requirements for people who take many of the medications used to treat bipolar disorder. Weight gain is a potential side effect of nearly all antidepressant medications. However it is not clear whether the weight gain is a direct effect of the drug or of the state of depression. Still, weight control should be a consideration for people who are being treated with antidepressants.

MAO Inhibitors and Tyramine

MAO Inhibitors (MAOI's) are also used to treat depression and may be prescribed to people who suffer from bipolar disorder. They can combine with tyramine, which is a common component of many foods, and cause diarrhea, headache and high or low blood pressure. People who take MAOI's should avoid any foods high in tryamine. Since the amount of tyramine increases with aging, people on MAOI's should avoid any aged or mature foods including cheeses and wines. Other high tyramine foods include:

Dairy: sour cream and yogurt

Meat: caviar, dried fish, fermented sausages, game meat, liver, non-fresh canned meat, pickled herring and salted fish.

Vegetables: eggplant, Italian green beans, lentils, lima beans, sauerkraut, snow peas and soy beans

Fruit: avocado, bananas, figs, raisins, raspberries and red plums

Beverages: ale, beer, alcohol-free and reduced alcohol beer and wine, caffeinated colas, coffee and tea.

Lithium and Sodium

Lithium is a mood stabilizer and is used to even out the highs and lows in bipolar disorder. It may be used alone or in combination with antidepressants. If you are taking lithium you should maintain a consistent salt intake. Sodium stabilizes lithium levels in the body and too little or too much can impact the medication's effect. Too little salt in your diet can increase side effects like water retention, mental confusion and kidney problems. Too much salt can prevent lithium from working properly. People who are on this medication should also avoid caffeine, as it increases urination and can therefore affect the sodium levels in your body.