Good nutrition affects not just your physical health but your emotional and mental well-being as well. Nutritional imbalances can contribute to a diagnosis of Bipolar and the condition and symptoms of it can be made much worse by consuming the wrong types of foods. Food cravings can also be worse in people that suffer with this condition as the stress can cause a build-up of the hormone cortisol. High levels cause our cravings to increase as your appetite for sweet things intensifies. Bipolar is also affected by the neurotransmitters in our brain, dopamine and serotonin.
Our pleasure neurotransmitter is secreted by the brain’s reward centre, if reward is perceived. For example, if you eat something sweet or satisfying, your brain will release dopamine which makes you feel pleasure.
Research shows that the brain circuits involved with reward are much stronger in people with Bipolar. You are also more likely to go for short-term rewards found in sugary, salty and processed foods and struggle with addictive eating behaviours that are not good for your physical or mental well-being.
Serotonin plays an important part in mood regulation, and medications affecting serotonin in the brain are used to treat people suffering from depressive illness and depressive phases of bipolar disorder.
Your body produces serotonin from certain amino acids to help you feel relaxed (which is why it’s known as the ‘happy hormone’). If you are deficient in these amino acids you don’t produce enough serotonin and may experience strong carbohydrate cravings. 90% of your serotonin is produced in the gut so poor gut health also contributes to low levels of serotonin.
So, what can you do nutritionally to help manage the condition and control your weight, mood and cravings?
Keep Your Blood Sugars Balanced
Going too long between meals, eating the wrong types of foods, and not enough fibre, protein, and fats, can all lead to blood sugar imbalances. Low blood sugars cause your body to crave something sweet to boost your insulin levels. This can affect your mood and energy levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels consistent can help you feel more mentally and emotionally balanced. Here’s how you can help to keep them stable:
- Eating regular meals – every 4 hours
- Reducing carbohydrates (especially wheat and gluten)
- Having protein with every meal and snack, to slow down the release of insulin
- Eating plenty of healthy fats, which are essential for hormone balance and stabilise moods
- Eating plenty of fibre, for a healthy digestive system, and to help slow down the release of insulin, which shoots blood sugar levels up
Increase Your Intake of Omega-3
Eating food sources of omega-3 has been shown to reduce incidences of depression. Research has shown that bipolar disorder is the number one illness most associated with lack of omega-3 essential fatty acids. Good sources include oily fish (salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel), walnuts and flaxseeds.
Swap Refined Carbs for Wholegrain Versions
Carb cravings are commonplace with Bipolar, so ditch the refined carbs and focus on good sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, oats and root vegetables, which will keep insulin and energy levels consistent.
Reduce Nutrient Deficiencies by Consuming a Wide Variety of these Vitamins and Minerals:
- Magnesium – It is thought that people with Bipolar disorder may have a deficiency of magnesium in their blood. It has a very similar chemical make-up to lithium, which is the drug most commonly used as a mood stabiliser. Poor sleep patterns are also common in Bipolar sufferers, and magnesium helps to promote good sleep patterns. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.
- Folic Acid (B6) – One of the family of B vitamins, B6 plays an important role in the production of the mood-regulating neurotransmitter serotonin. Good sources include avocado, banana, beans, meats, poultry and nuts.
- Vitamin D – Essential for cognitive function and brain development, a deficiency of Vitamin D can cause cognitive impairment. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, the best source of vitamin D is via the skin from direct sunlight (experts recommend at least 15 mins a day in the sunshine). Foods sources include eggs and oily fish such as salmon and fresh tuna.
- Tryptophan – Foods rich in this amino acid, such as turkey and fermented soy, can help to boost levels of serotonin.
Avoid Stimulants That Can Send You on an Emotional Rollercoaster:
- Caffeine – Can trigger mood swings, mania, and anxiety in Bipolar, and should be avoided. Try a good quality organic decaff, naturally caffeine-free rooibos tea, and fruit or herb teas as an alternative.
- Alcohol – Alcohol can affect Bipolar mood swings and also interact negatively with medications. Their sensitivity to dopamine also means Bipolar patients are more likely to become addicted to alcohol and other substances.
- Sugar – The highs and lows caused by excess sugar intake could add to Bipolar mood swings, particularly mania, and therefore should be avoided. Try natural sweeteners such as honey, fruit, and dates.
Rebecca Boulton is a Nutritional Therapist who helps busy women take control of their bodies and emotions through simple diet and lifestyle changes.