Dietary Intervention Cuts Mood Swings, Other Bipolar Symptoms

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A nutritional intervention with a focus on fatty acids appears to reduce mood swings in patients with bipolar disorder (BD) when used as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy, early research suggests.

In a single-center study, patients with BD who received a diet consisting of high omega-3 plus low omega-6 fatty acids (H3-L6), in addition to usual care, showed significant reductions in mood variability, irritability, and pain compared with their counterparts who received a diet with usual levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids commonly consumed in regular US diets.

“Our findings need replication and validation in other studies,” study co-investigator Erika Saunders, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Penn State College of Medicine, Hershy

“While we got really exciting findings, it’s far from confirmatory or the last word on the subject. The fatty acids do two broad things. They incorporate into the membranes of neurons in the brain and they also create signaling molecules throughout the brain and the body that interact with the immune system and the inflammatory system. And we suspect that it is through those mechanisms that this composition of fatty acids is having an effect on mood stability, but lots more work needs to be done to figure that out,” Saunders added.

The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) 2020 Virtual Conference.

Fewer Mood Swings

Many patients with BD do not achieve complete mood stability with medication, making the need for additional treatments imperative, she added.

“We were interested in looking at treatments that improved mood stability in bipolar disorder that are well-tolerated by patients and that can be added to pharmacological treatments. We studied this particular nutritional intervention because biologically it does some of the same things that effective medications for bipolar disorder do and it has been investigated as an effective treatment for conditions like migraine headaches, which has a lot of overlap and comorbidity with bipolar disorder.”

The researchers randomized 41 patients with BD to receive the nutritional intervention of high omega-3 plus low omega-6 (H3-L6) and 41 patients with BD to receive a control diet of usual US levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

The patients ranged in age from 20 to 75 years (mean age, 43.5 +/- 13.9 years) and 83% were women. They had similar mean levels of mood symptoms and pain.