Mood, Food and Bipolar Disorder: A New Prescription

From Hoffington Post.  For full article click their link here.

If you’re one of the estimated 5.7 million U.S. adults dealing with bipolar disorder, you know the potent control it can have on your moods, energy and emotions. What you may not know is how much power you have to control it.

Thanks to an emerging science called epigenetics, researchers have learned that DNA is no longer destiny and that each of us has the ability to influence how our genes express themselves to the rest of the body. With healthy lifestyle choices and environmental changes, we can actually alter our own destiny.

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For those with bipolar disorder, it’s an empowering message: No longer are you a prisoner of your genetics, thought to play a key role in the disorder. And through healthier lifestyle choices, you may be able to decrease your reliance on medication to manage your illness, although this remains a critical part of the overall treatment equation. By taking a holistic and integrative lifestyle approach that includes the practice of mindfulness and stress reduction, using nutrition based on whole foods, and adding a more active lifestyle — what I like to call my Mind, Mouth and Muscle blueprint — you can reduce the effects of the bipolar condition and improve the quality of your life.

This isn’t just theory. I work directly with those with mood disorders and have seen firsthand the benefits that can result from choosing the apple over the doughnut, meditating rather than obsessing and ruminating over a life stress, and going for a walk instead of sitting for hours watching mindless TV. With each healthy choice that’s made, you’re influencing the proteins that switch genes on and off and affecting the messages that are delivered throughout the body. Consistently good choices translate into a better reading of your genetic script. You’re also carving neural highways that lay down a foundation for new lifestyle habits.

This attention to Mind, Mouth and Muscle can also help with a condition highly associated with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder: weight gain. A 2011 review found that 68 percent of those who seek help for bipolar disorder are overweight or obese. The medications are partly to blame for the extra pounds, but the psychobiology of the disorder itself also plays a significant role as well. Those with bipolar disorder are believed to have lower levels of the chemical messenger serotonin, which can spark a craving for carbs and sweets.

Bipolar disorder also goes hand in hand with stress, which can cause a buildup of the hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels rise, our appetite for sweetness intensifies. And top that with new research that indicates that brain circuits involved with reward are more strongly activated in people with bipolar disorder. If reward is perceived, a tsunami of the pleasure neurotransmitter, dopamine, is secreted by the brain’s reward center. The good news is that this dopamine-driven push for reward helps people with bipolar disorder become high achievers. The bad news is that they can also become side-tracked by short-term, pleasurable rewards like overeating. Not surprisingly, the foods that are over-consumed are the “hyperpalatables” — sugary, fatty, salty food combinations. One result of these psychobiological interplays is that the self-soothing and rewarding behaviors can contribute to strong, addictive-like eating behaviors that may become destructive to mental and physical health and well-being.

Experts agree that bipolar disorder has no cure. However, we now know that simple lifestyle choices like opting for whole food nutrition can make a significant impact on the daily management of mood, energy and sleep. Combine that with improved stress coping abilities, along with regular physical activity and the result is a more optimized, effective and long-term treatment plan. There’s no need to feel helpless, hopeless and defeated as so many with bipolar disorder do. You can make a significant difference in improving the quality of your life. And it all starts with being mindful of every mouthful.

Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. She is a New York Times bestselling author, including her latest book, The Hunger Fix: The Three Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction. As Senior Science Adviser for Elements Behavioral Health, Dr. Peeke has created integrative nutrition and holistic lifestyle programs at Malibu Vista women’s mental health center in Malibu, California, and Lucida Treatment Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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