There is no specific bipolar diet. Nevertheless, it is important to make wise dietary choices that will help you maintain a healthy weight and stay well. These choices include:
Avoiding the “Western” style diet that’s rich in red meats, saturated fats and trans fats, and simple carbohydrates. This eating style is linked to a higher risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Eating less saturated fats and simple carbohydrates can help overall health but does not directly affect the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Eating a balance of protective, nutrient-dense foods. These foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, cold-water fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, soy products, and nuts and seeds. These foods provide the levels of nutrients necessary to maintain good health and prevent disease.
Watching caloric intake and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight. Some findings show that those with bipolar disorder may have a greater risk for being overweight or obese. Talk to your doctor about ways to avoid weight gain when taking bipolar medications.
Does Fish Oil Improve Mood With Bipolar Disorder?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish at least two times a week. Good choices include:
If you do not like fish, the AHA recommends taking 0.5 to 1.8 grams of fish oil per day as supplements. That way you will get enough eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Fish oil can help keep your heart healthy. But some experts also believe that fish oil is an important bipolar supplement and that it plays a key role in brain function and behavior. These experts report that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful for those with bipolar disorder, particularly if they have an higher risk of cardiovascular disease or high triglycerides.
Some research suggests that a getting more omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil is linked to greater volume in areas of the brain. In particular, these areas are related to mood and behavior. Results from one study of 75 patients describe the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids compared to a placebo. The benefits included decreasing depression in bipolar disorder.
Still, the overall evidence for benefit of fish oil in bipolar disorder is inconsistent. More studies are needed before fish oil can be recommended for bipolar disorder.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan looking for possible benefits of fish oil, go with nuts. Walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted to omega-3 fatty acid in the body.
Which Foods Should I Avoid if I Have Bipolar Disorder?
Some general dietary recommendations for treating bipolar disorder include:
Getting only moderate amounts of caffeine and not stopping caffeine use abruptly
Avoiding high-fat meals to lower the risk for obesity
Watching your salt if you have high blood pressure but not skimping on salt if you are being prescribed lithium since low salt intake can cause higher levels of lithium in the blood
Following your doctor’s instructions to stay away from foods that may affect your specific bipolar medication, if any
In addition, you need to be wary of natural dietary supplements that can cause a drug-herb interaction.
Avoiding too much caffeine may be helpful for getting good sleep, which is especially important for people with bipolar disorder. When someone with bipolar disorder is feeling depressed, extra caffeine can help that person boost the low mood. The problem is caffeine can disrupt sleep. Caffeine can also lower the sedative effects of medications, such as benzodiazepines, that are used to treat anxiety and mania associated with bipolar disorder.
In addition to lowering caffeine, it’s important to avoid high-fat meals with some bipolar medications. High-fat meals may delay the time it takes for some bipolar medications to take effect. Talk to your doctor about your medications and necessary dietary changes.
If you take MAO inhibitors (a certain class of antidepressant that includes Emsam, Nardil, and Parnate), it’s important to avoid tyramine-containing foods. These foods can cause severe hypertension in people taking MAO inhibitors. Some foods high in tyramine are:
Overly ripe bananas and banana peels
Some wines, such as Chianti
Soy sauce in high quantities
Your doctor can give you a list of foods to avoid if you take these drugs.
Also, avoid taking natural dietary supplements if you are taking bipolar medications. Supplements such as St. John’s wort and SAM-e are touted to treat moderate depression. A few studies show benefit for some people with depression. But these natural therapies can interact with antidepressants and other bipolar medications. Discuss any natural dietary supplement with your doctor to make sure it is safe.
What About Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder?
Instructions for most psychiatric medications warn users not to drink alcohol, but people with bipolar disorder frequently abuse alcohol and other drugs. The abuse is possibly an attempt to self-medicate or to treat their disturbing mood symptoms, and they may also cause mood symptoms that can mimic those of bipolar disorder.
Alcohol is a depressant. That is why many people use it as a tranquilizer at the end of a hard day or as an assist for tense social situations. While some patients stop drinking when they are depressed, it is more common that someone with bipolar disorder drinks during low moods. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with bipolar disorder are five times more likely to develop alcohol misuse and dependence than the rest of the population.
The link between bipolar disorder and substance abuse is explosive. Alcohol is a leading trigger of depressive episodes in many people who are genetically vulnerable for depression or bipolar disorder. About 15% of all adults who have a psychiatric illness in any given year also experience a co-occurring substance abuse disorder. This disorder can seriously complicate treatment.
Can I Drink Grapefruit Juice While on Bipolar Drugs?
Be careful. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice with your bipolar medication. Grapefruit juice may increase the blood levels of certain bipolar medications. This includes some anticonvulsants. Taking benzodiazepines — Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, Ativan — with grapefruit juice may cause excessive impairment and even toxicity.
Should I Take Bipolar Medication With or Without Food?
Each bipolar medication is different. So talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking the first dose. Some bipolar drugs can be taken with or without food. Others are less effective if taken with food. Your doctor or pharmacist can pull the latest recommendations on taking the bipolar medication so you can safely take the medicine and get the full benefit of the drug.