Dietary Interventions Control Mood Swings

Dietary interventions for bipolar and major depression

A modified diet including high omega-3 and low omega-6 fatty acids has shown “exciting” findings in a small study looking at adjunct treatments to control mood swings in bipolar patients.  Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine randomized 41 patients, some to receive a high omega-3, low omega-6 diet, and some to receive a control diet of usual US levels of these fatty acids.  All were receiving “usual” care for bipolar disorder, anxiety, and/or migraine headaches.  The study aimed to investigate interventions that could support pharmacological treatments because these may not give complete mood stability to many patients, especially those with complex situations and multiple comorbidities.

Diet changes help control mood swings

The results showed significant reduction in mood swings, pain, and irritability, and improvements in energy level.  The only improvement seen in the “usual care” group was in impulse control.  These results are considered important because they add to the evidence that non-medication changes in lifestyle choices can have helpful effects on management of chronic conditions such as bipolar disorder.  Although this was a small study, it adds another piece to the puzzle of control and maintenance of mental illness beyond medication.

In the Penn State study, participants received a carefully controlled diet and nutritional advice and coaching.  Members of the intervention group were given a specially formulated cooking oil with a blend of olive and macadamia nut oils.  They also received specially prepared snack foods for the duration of the study.  Researchers were careful to point out that the diet was formulated for the specific conditions of a single study, they are not making wider recommendations about diets for everyone at this time.

Diet interventions for major depressive disorder

In a related development, the Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research conducted a literature review last year (2019) and found a significant effect of omega-3 fatty acids on reducing depression.  A growing body of evidence demonstrates their efficacy as an adjunctive treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD).  The authors note that the effect sizes (results) are small in studies of diet interventions on MDD, but they point out that effect sizes of pharmaceutical interventions are also small in the studies using them.

How to put these findings to work

MoodSurfing has recommended the Mediterranean diet over the past several years because research has shown real results for this form of diet modification.  The diet used in the Penn State study is similar in some respects to the Mediterranean diet, but is not exactly the same.  Omega-3 fatty acids are found in deep sea fatty fish such as tuna and salmon, which are also recommended in other contexts because of their health effects.  Supplementation with omega-3 has been explored in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and in rheumatologic disorders as well as in a host of psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorders, where a possible treatment effect has been suggested in other studies. A reduction in red meat consumption, and increased use of nuts, fruits and fresh vegetables are other components of recommended healthy diets.