Researchers at Lewisham Counselling and Counsellor Associates in Britain performed a very small study to determine what impact, if any, diet and nutrition have on a person with bipolar disorder and the implications of this on psychotherapeutic practice. They presented their findings at the BACP (British Association for Counseling & Psychotherapy) Research Conference 2011. Here’s what they found:
Dr. Candida Fink, MD is a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist who specializes in several areas including mood and anxiety disorders and dual diagnoses of developmental disabilities and mental illness. She treats children, teens, and young adults with a range of concerns including ADHD, anxiety disorders, OCD, autism, pediatric mood disorders, and mental health issues in school settings. Dr. Fink has co-authored two books – The Ups and Downs of Raising a Bipolar Child (with Judith Lederman, Simon and Schuster, 2003) and Bipolar Disorder for Dummies (with Joe Kraynak, John Wiley & Sons, 2005, third edition 2015). She has been featured nationally and locally in broadcast, print, and online media coverage and is a frequent speaker on mental health topics for community and school-based audiences.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
- A link does exist between diet and bipolar disorder. Omega 3, Magnesium, Vitamin B, and low sugar intake seemed helpful in minimizing the intensity and frequency of the mood swings.
- A sudden increase or decrease in appetite or erratic eating pattern is common at the onset of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar treatments seldom consider diet, perhaps because of its perceived association with alternative medicine.
The authors of the study suggest that including a dietitian or nutritionist on the treatment team might be a good idea.
Unfortunately, it’s true that doctors and therapists often overlook nutrition as a possible contributing factor to bipolar disorder’s mood swings. Standard treatment protocols rely on medication and certain therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy – the industrial strength tools. But considering diet and nutrition is important, as we point out in Bipolar Disorder For Dummies and in a previous post entitled “Good Mood Foods.”
This study was extremely small, and the structure of the study makes it hard to draw any big conclusions. But I have noted in my practice that appetite and diet are strongly correlated with mood states – and in once case a severely restricted diet was associated with the onset of a manic episode. I can’t tell if the eating changes were caused by the brewing mood episode or if the dramatic change in diet triggered the mood episode – but they were clearly related to each other. We know that bipolar mood episodes are closely linked to regulatory systems such as sleep/wake, so it makes sense that the dietary system would be part of that loop as well.
Food and nutrition are clearly linked to mood and include specific nutrients, such as Omega 3’s, patterns of eating related to emotional states, healthy eating as a part of overall well-being and long-term illness management, and the weight effects of medications used to treat mood disorders. Nutritional expertise and support would certainly make sense for many people living with mood disorders at different points in their treatment and recovery.
What do you think? Do you think the medical profession tends to overlook nutrition when treating bipolar disorder? When’s the last time your family physician, p-doc, or therapist asked you about what you eat or recommended dietary changes to help in mood management?