Eating processed meats may ‘increase risk of manic episodes’, study finds

The foods have been linked to poor psychiatric health

Olivia Petter
Wednesday 18 July 2018 09:50 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Eating processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of manic episodes in a new study conducted by John Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Patients diagnosed with mania, an abnormal mental state characterised by hyperactivity, euphoria and insomnia, were more than three times more likely to have recently consumed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, ham or salami compared to those with no history of psychiatric disorders.

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the study examined the medical histories of 1,101 people with and without psychiatric disorders and found that the consumption of nitrates - chemicals often used to cure and preserve processed meats - is associated with poor mental health.

Researchers also conducted a series of experiments on rats and found that the animals exhibited signs of manic-like hyperactivity after a few weeks of being on a diet with added nitrates.

"Future work on this association could lead to dietary interventions to help reduce the risk of manic episodes in those who have bipolar disorder or who are otherwise vulnerable to mania," said lead author Robert Yolken, M.D.

There were no other foods that seemed to have any significant associations with psychiatric disorders in the study.

“We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out,” he added.

However, participants were not asked to state how often they ate processed meats or for how long they had eaten them for, making it impossible to identify by how much eating these foods may increase the risk of manic episodes.

Mania can last anywhere between several weeks to a few months and is a common symptom of bipolar disorder but can also affect those with schizo-affective disorder.

Those in a manic state may experience an elevated mood and delusional thoughts, which in some cases can lead to dangerous risk-taking behaviour.

"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 manic episodes," said co-author Kellie Tamashiro.

"Our results suggest that nitrated cured meat could be one environmental player in mediating mania."

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