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Bipolar Disorder Health Center

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Bipolar Disorder and Foods to Avoid

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If you or a loved has bipolar disorder, you know how important it is to manage mood episodes with bipolar medications and healthy lifestyle habits. But did you also know that certain foods and dietary supplements might play a role in helping -- or hindering -- people with bipolar disorder?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder that's defined by dramatic or unusual mood episodes of highs and lows. The episodes of mania and depression can range from very mild to extreme in their intensity and severity. With bipolar disorder, mood episodes can come on gradually over many days or even weeks. Or they can come on suddenly, occurring over the course of just a few days. To count as episodes, symptoms must occur as a constellation of features that affects not only mood but also sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior and must last for at least several days, representing a change from your normal self.

With bipolar disorder, the person may experience episodes of major depression or of extreme elation and excessive energy. The elation is called mania. The mood episodes of bipolar disorder are accompanied by disturbances in thinking, distortions of perception, and impairment in social functioning.

Bipolar disorder was once thought to affect about 1% of the population. Some experts now believe it's higher, perhaps affecting 3% to 4% of the population. There are no laboratory tests to diagnose bipolar disorder, and its symptoms can overlap with other psychiatric disorders. As a result, it's often misdiagnosed and undertreated.

Is There a Diet for Bipolar Disorder?

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.

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