An estimated 5.7 million people in the U.S. aged 18 and over struggle with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by unusual changes in one’s mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration. That’s according to a study published by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which also noted that 25 is the median age for the onset of this particular mental illness. Like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder can take quite a toll on someone’s life, often to the extent they completely lose the will to live. According to the same NIMH study, 1 in 5 people struggling with bipolar commits suicide. To appreciate why this is, we need to delve further into what the illness does to someone from a psychological standpoint.
When someone has this disorder, they will invariably find themselves on one end of the spectrum or another. And that’s because it is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings characterized by emotional highs known as mania or hypomania and severe depression delineated by extreme sadness. During the mania or hypomania phase, it is not unusual for most people to experience intense euphoria and have seemingly boundless energy. When depression kicks in, most feel sad or hopeless. Many also struggle with a lack of sleep, low energy, and an inability to think clearly and rationally. That shift into depression is almost always the catalyst for suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and actual suicide, according to multiple studies.
According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective psychotherapy for treating bipolar disorder. The study revealed CBT significantly improves depressive symptoms, mania severity, and psychosocial functioning in individuals living with bipolar disorder. In addition to CBT, the following FDA-approved medications are often used to treat it and the associated symptoms:
While CBT sessions with a licensed therapist and prescription drugs are highly effective in treating bipolar disorder, they are not the only treatments that can help. Good nutrition can also do wonders for individuals with bipolar disorder. And that brings us to superfoods, which many naturopaths and some dieticians and nutritionists have touted as natural cures for bipolar disorder. For those unaware, superfoods are foods rich in healthy compounds, such as antioxidants, fiber, and fatty acids. Some of the ones proven to help individuals better cope with bipolar mania and depression include
Fatty fish – Consuming mackerel, sardines, anchovies, tuna, and salmon is good for your overall health, but doing so can be exceedingly beneficial is have bipolar disorder. And this is because these particular fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a form of polyunsaturated fat that allows the body to function at its best by minimizing inflammation and contributing to good brain and heart health. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids contain tyrosine, an amino acid that the body uses to stimulate the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are two mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters in the brain.
Beans – Whether red, black, or some other hue, beans should be part of a bipolar diet. In addition to helping you stay regular, which is beneficial since some antipsychotic medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder can cause constipation, beans are rich in folic acid. Studies show that individuals who are low in folic acid tend to have above-average homocysteine levels. For reference, homocysteine is an amino acid linked to the development and worsening of bipolar disorder.
Fruits and vegetables – If you have bipolar disorder, you should make it a point to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables. Such bipolar eating habits can boost low energy and serotonin levels, studies show. Avocados and bananas, for example, are excellent sources of vitamin B6, which, like omega-3 fatty acids, helps keep serotonin levels where they need to be. Further, they can help combat low energy. Green vegetables, such as spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens, act as natural cures for many bipolar symptoms. And that’s because they are all rich in folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin E, all of which can help with major depressive disorder (MDD). The long and short of it is you can’t go wrong with making fruits and vegetables part of a diet for bipolar disorder.
Consuming protein-rich foods is another excellent way to combat most bipolar disorder symptoms, according to Mental Health Connecticut (MHC), a nonprofit committed to improving mental health services and promoting recovery for people with mental health conditions. The organization notes that the amino acids in high-protein foods, such as beef, lamb, veal, pork, chicken, turkey, fish, and many dairy products, produce neurotransmitters in the brain that treat and prevent depression and anxiety. It also found that a diet for bipolar disorder consisting of high-protein foods can minimize cravings for sugary snacks and processed foods that can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression.
All in all, bipolar is a terrifying mental illness that can make life exceedingly challenging. But there are several things people can do to prevent it from spiraling too far out of control, such as taking prescription-based drugs to help ease symptoms, counseling sessions with a licensed therapist, and consuming a bipolar diet that comprises a healthy mix of mood-stabilizing foods.