Please note; none of the below is a replacement for medical advice. Bipolar UK always advises you consult with a GP, psychiatrist or member of your mental health team before making any changes to your diet or engaging in any complementary or alternative treatments.

Food and mood are connected

The foods we eat can have a huge influence on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. Proper nutrition can be a good defence against all illnesses including bipolar symptoms such as depression. Mary Wallace-Cooley, former psychiatric nurse and practicing Nutritional Therapist, explores how we can change how we think and feel through our diet.

The famous French psychiatrist Philippe Pinel concluded in 1807: “The primary seat of insanity generally is the region of the stomach and intestines.” Psychiatry is one form of medicine that does not always look at the patient’s digestive system, and yet medical history has  examples where severe psychiatric conditions were much improved by simply “cleaning out the patient’s gut”. Nutritional treatment, alongside traditional treatments such as medications, therapies and self-management, can be the way forward for many patients and more and more psychiatrists are becoming aware of it.

Nourishing your body

Our body is amazing. It has incredible powers of healing and resilience, but it is the mind that is master of it all. When the mind is truly connected with the body it is like a light going on in every cell. By nourishing and nurturing ourselves on all levels we move closer to balance and harmony within ourselves. As a nutritional therapist I believe we need to wake up to the realisation that poor nutrition and chemical imbalances can influence wellbeing and a lot of mental health problems.

The modern western diet has become woefully lacking in essential fats, vitamins, minerals and other key brain nutrients. One of the biggest problems for many people is processed food which has been tampered with to enhance its shelf life. Eating a diet consisting of ready cooked meals, white bread, fizzy drinks, crisps, fast food takeaways, excess tea and coffee is not proper food for our brains and might make you feel sluggish, or leave you lacking in vitamins or minerals that are essential for wellness.

This sort of diet contains damaged fats known as trans fats or hydrogenated fat which upsets the brain function and can contribute to changing mental wellbeing. Add to this excess alcohol and smoking which can influence mood change, and may damage the lining of the gut and upset the blood sugar balance within the body, causing low energy, irritability, and deficiency in vital minerals, vitamins, essential fats and amino acids.

A natural diet

For many people, an ideal diet should be as natural, seasonal, local and organic as much as possible. If we want to improve our mental health through diet we can find it helpful to regularly eat some of the following food.

The omega 3 essential fatty acids are very important. Good sources are cold water fish, herring, mackerel, organic and wild salmon, nuts and pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Eat dark green leafy vegetables such as watercress, kale, spinach, green beans, broccoli raw or lightly cooked. These are rich in B vitamins which are vital for wellbeing.

You might find it helpful to have a protein breakfast to keep you full and stabilise blood sugar levels e.g. muesli with natural yoghurt and some fruit, omelettes and boiled eggs, smoothies. Eat eggs regularly if you enjoy them, preferably organic, free range and high in omega 3. Stay well-hydrated, and speak to your GP or psychiatrist about fluids if you're on any medication; remember that herbal teas and fruit juices count too! You can think about cutting down on fizzy drinks and reducing your intake of fried and processed food. Some people enjoy steamed vegetables and fish to reduce their processed food intake. Avoid ready-made meals and fast food takeaways.

By nourishing and nurturing ourselves on all levels lots of people find their mood will improve and they have more energy, feel calmer, and will be better equipped to deal with the stresses and strains of living in the 21st century. I wish you all well on your healing journey. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; begin today.