Processed Meats, Mania Disorder Risk Linked in New Research

Tom Jones

"It's clear that mania is a complex neuropsychiatric state, and that both genetic vulnerabilities and environmental factors are likely involved in the emergence and severity of bipolar disorder and associated maniac episodes", explained Seva Khambadkone, doctoral student at the varsity.

Scientists are of the opinion that this could be due to the presence of chemical nitrate present in the foods to preserve them. He and colleagues collected demographic, health, and dietary data on 1,101 individuals with and without psychiatric disorders.

Nitrates have always been used as preservatives in cured meat products and have been previously linked to some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.

Experiments in rats by the researchers showed that mania-like hyperactivity after just a few weeks on diets with added nitrates.

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The study can't prove that nitrates in foods actually cause mania, as only an association was seen.

Yolken says future studies could take a more in-depth look at the frequency and volume of nitrate consumption to help researchers understand more about any possible connection between nitrates and mania. "We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out", says Dr. Yolken. Yet when they analyzed the decades-worth of answers for any notable trends, the authors unexpectedly revealed that people who had been hospitalized for an episode of mania were 3.5 times more likely to have a history of eating nitrated cured meat compared with healthy control subjects (n=343) who filled out the same questionnaire, after adjusting for other potentially impacting factors. Within two weeks, the rats eating jerky showed irregular sleeping patterns and hyperactivity. They repeated the experiment, this time giving some rats the store-bought, nitrate-prepared jerky and others the nitrate-free formulation.

The study was published July 18 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. "We tried to make sure the amount of nitrate used in the experiment was in the range of what people might reasonably be eating", Dr. Yolken comments". The theory, according to Johns Hopkins researchers, is that gut bacteria may be one contributing cause to mania and other brain disorders - which would mean that people with mania could reduce the frequency of their episodes by changing their diet. These animals also demonstrated changes to hippocampal pathways in the brain that have been implicated in human bipolar disorder, as well as alterations to their intestinal microbiota.

"Our results suggest that nitrated cured meat could be one environmental player in mediating mania", she said. It was partly funded by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. Between 2007 and 2017, researchers at the nearby Sheppard Pratt Health System asked 758 willing psychiatric patients to fill out comprehensive lifestyle questionnaires as part of a separate project.

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