SEP 28, 2021 10:00 AM PDT

Eating Foods High In Omega-3 Fatty Acids Could Help People With Bipolar Disorder

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Diet can affect your health in many ways, both physically and mentally. For example, some research suggests that diets high in sugars can impair brain function and even lead to depression. This is especially true for “Westernized” diets--those high in sugars, fats, and excessive amounts of sodium. It’s also becoming increasingly clear that mental health is affected by our diets, and that more research is needed to understand what changes can be made to our diet (called “nutritional psychiatry”) to improve mental health. 

Researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine are exploring these questions for people with bipolar disorders, looking specifically at how changes to intake of certain fatty acids could help stabilize mood.

According to a study published in Bipolar Disorders, researchers explored how eating different amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids--omega 3 and 6, specifically--could affect mood swings in people with bipolar disorder, a condition that affected almost 3% of U.S. adults in the past year.

In the study, participants ate according to a diet designed by researchers for 12 weeks, in addition to their regular standard bipolar treatment, such as mood stabilizing drugs. Researchers hypothesized that changing the levels of different fatty acids in a participants diet could change levels of inflammation or pain in the body and help prevent dramatic swings between manic and depressive mental states.

Some participants followed a diet with less omega-6 fatty acids (usually found in foods like red meat) and while some followed a diet with more omega-3 fatty acids (adding fish and flaxseed to diets, for example). Using a combination of blood tests and participant-reported questionnaires completed twice daily asking about mood and pain, researchers tried to create a profile of how these dietary changes affected the body.  

Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids both have potential health benefits, though omega-3 tends to have a more favorable reputation. Omega-3 is often found in foods like fish and fish oils, and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in foods like red meats and vegetable oils, also have some potential benefits. For example, it may help balance healthy levels of good and bad cholesterol in the body. 

While the study highlighted preliminary efficacy between mood stabilization and changing the fatty acids in a diet, researchers cautioned that their study was not conclusive. Instead, researchers noted it was a step towards finding long-term care strategies for people living with bipolar disorder.  

Sources: Science Daily; Bipolar Disorders; Harvard Health; Antioxidants

About the Author
  • Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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