Making a few changes to your diet is one potential way to help manage manic or depressive episodes. Although foods won’t cure bipolar disorder, choosing the right ones may make you feel well and help you better handle your condition.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition marked by shifts in mood, such as varying highs (known as mania) and lows (known as depression).
Mood-stabilizing medications and therapy can help manage these changes in mood, and your diet can also play a role. Learn more about the best foods and nutrients to help support your overall health with bipolar disorder.
Whole grains aren’t just good for your heart and digestive system. Research suggests that they may also have a calming effect on your mind.
Carbohydrates are thought to boost your brain’s production of serotonin. This feel-good brain chemical helps to ease anxiety and depression. This can leave you feeling more in control, especially during depressive episodes.
So, the next time you’re feeling a little jittery or overwhelmed, grab some whole-grain crackers to nibble on. Other good options include:
- whole-grain toast
- whole-grain pasta
- brown rice
The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play an important role in your brain. They’re an essential part of nerve cells and help facilitate signaling between those cells.
Researchers continue to study whether omega-3s can help treat depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health conditions.
Because omega-3 fatty acids are healthy for your brain and heart in general, they’re worth incorporating into your diet. Cold-water fish contain the highest levels of this healthy nutrient.
Other good food sources include:
- flaxseeds and their oil
Turkey is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which has become synonymous with the sleepy feeling that comes over you after Thanksgiving dinner.
Aside from its supposed sleep-inducing effects, tryptophan helps your body make serotonin, a brain chemical that’s involved in
There’s also some evidence that people with bipolar disorder may have lower levels of tryptophan than most people. Researchers are still looking into tryptophan’s effects on bipolar disorder.
If you want to try tryptophan but aren’t a big fan of turkey, you’ll also find it in foods such as eggs, tofu, and cheese.
What do black beans, lima beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils have in common? They’re all members of the legume family, and they’re all rich sources of magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral that is important for the health of all cells. There’s evidence that magnesium can increase the efficacy of antidepressants and antipsychotic medications. Both of these types of medications are frequently used to manage bipolar disorder symptoms.
Even if you don’t take those types of medications, adding fiber- and nutrient-rich beans to your diet is unlikely to hurt. Beans may make you gassy when you first increase them in your diet, but that diminishes if you continue to eat them.
Almonds, cashews, and peanuts are also high in magnesium.
In addition to research that suggests magnesium can make bipolar disorder medications more effective, there’s also evidence that magnesium can help lower stress. Magnesium helps to regulate the body’s stress response by keeping cortisol levels in check.
The human gut is teeming with trillions of bacteria. Some live harmoniously with us, while others make us sick.
This gut microbiome is a hot topic in research right now. Scientists are trying to better understand how the healthy bacteria promote health and immune function, including reducing inflammation. Research suggests that inflammation may be linked to bipolar disorder through anxiety, a common symptom of the condition.
Increasingly, researchers are finding that these types of bacteria that reside within us help improve the state of our emotional health. Some bacteria release stress hormones such as norepinephrine, while others release calming chemicals such as serotonin.
One way to tip the balance in favor of healthy bacteria is by eating probiotics — foods containing live bacteria. These include:
Chamomile has been used for centuries as a folk remedy for upset stomach, anxiety, and insomnia. A 2020 study suggested that chamomile extract can also help relieve depression and anxiety, both of which are associated with bipolar disorder.
Although more research is needed to understand chamomile’s effect on mental health, if you find that sipping on something hot soothes your mind, it can’t hurt to drink some chamomile tea.
Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food — and dark chocolate, in particular, is believed to have some health benefits.
A 2021 study indicated that dark chocolate could help reduce fatigue and improve cognitive function. Bipolar disorder can affect energy levels, so you may find this added boost from dark chocolate helpful.
This red, thread-like spice is a staple in dishes from India and the Mediterranean. In medicine, saffron has been studied for its calming effect and antidepressant properties.
A 2019 meta-analysis suggested that although saffron is not as effective as most types of antidepressants, it can be helpful in managing mild to moderate depression symptoms. In some studies mentioned, saffron had a similar effect to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
One 2021 study also suggested that saffron may help improve the quality and duration of sleep. Sleep issues are common with bipolar disorder, so adding saffron to your diet may be a good way to catch some Zzz’s.
Not all foods make you feel better. When you’re feeling wired, certain foods and beverages can rev you up even more, including those that are high in caffeine or alcohol.
Caffeine is a stimulant that can produce jittery feelings. It can amp up your anxiety levels and make it harder for you to sleep at night.
You might think alcohol will take the edge off a manic episode and relax you, but having a few drinks can actually make you feel more on edge. Alcohol can also cause dehydration, which can negatively affect your mood. It can also interfere with medications.
Some foods don’t pair well with medications for bipolar disorder. If you take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), avoid tyramine. MAOIs can cause levels of this amino acid to spike, which could lead to a dangerous rise in blood pressure.
Tyramine is found in:
- aged cheeses
- cured, processed, and smoked meats
- fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi
- dried fruit
It’s also wise to limit high fat and sugary foods, especially refined or processed foods. These foods can lead to weight gain. A 2020 research review indicated that medications for bipolar disorder can increase your risk of developing obesity or other metabolic abnormalities.
Ask your doctor whether you need to avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice. This citrus fruit is known to interact with many different medications, including ones used to treat bipolar disorder.
Certain foods might help calm your mind, but they’re no replacement for your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan.
Don’t make any changes to your regular therapy without talking with your doctor first. Instead, consider adding mood-friendly foods to your diet to complement your other treatment strategies.
Make sure to ask your doctor about any foods you should avoid that may interact with current medications.