Bipolar Disorder: Underlying Causes and Dietary Tips

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on September 23rd, 2021

Bipolar Disorder: Underlying Causes and Dietary Tips

March 30th is World Bipolar Disorder Day.

Bipolar disorder affects nearly 6 million Americans. Unfortunately, the underlying cause is still very much misunderstood and since this condition is attached to much guilt and shame, people often go untreated or even worse, are misdiagnosed.

My personal physician, Dr. Albert Mensah of Mensah Medical states “Bipolar disorder is an umbrella term. Patients fit into four distinct biotypes, as discovered through research at the Walsh Research Institute where 1500 cases of bipolar disorder have been studied, and where hundreds of thousands of blood and chemistry results are stored.”

Bipolar Disorder has 4 Common Biochemical Phenotypes

Undermethylation – serotonin and dopamine
Overmethylation – serotonin and dopamine
Copper/ Zinc Imbalance – norepinephrine and dopamine
Severe Oxidative Stress – detrimental effect NMDA receptor (N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor)

Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder

One specific phenotype of bipolar disorder is caused by an underlying severe oxidative stress imbalance due to the presence of kryptopyrroles in the urine, which is commonly called pyroluria or pyrrole disorder. If this condition is present it means that stress will cause depletion of various vital nutrients. Deficiencies in these nutrients will affect mood and behavior.

Other Clinical Factors that May Also Mimic Bipolar Disorder

The bipolar umbrella term can refer to any one of these clinical conditions:
Food Intolerance
Blood Sugar Dysregulation (hypoglycemia)
Yeast Toxicity
Metal Toxic Exposure (lead, etc…)

Clinically, what takes on a bipolar appearance in terms of symptoms can fluctuate based on environmental and physical biochemical variations in individuals.

With so many clinical factors to consider, the first question that should be asked with a bipolar diagnosis is “Is the patient truly bipolar or in need of a dietary change?” The foods you consume daily may seem benign on the surface (especially healthy foods), but underneath, is a complex web of nutrients, chemicals, and elements, that may be toxic to you based on your unique biochemical blueprint.

The key to relief is in understanding your biochemical blueprint, which requires a paradigm shift in how you approach eating. This does not mean you need to be a perfect eater (there’s no such thing), nor does it mean you can’t enjoy flavorful foods. It simply means honoring who you really are via your food choices, which is the opposite of our world today, with its plethora of dietary theories and dogma that only serve to create more confusion and health problems.

If you struggle with bipolar disorder, here are a few things to consider:

  • Animal protein (not plant-based proteins) imparts a calming and stabilizing effect. It’s also a great source of brain-loving zinc and vitamin B6, nutrients critical for a healthy brain.
  • High-stress levels frequently lead to hypoglycemia and other blood sugar imbalances. Because animal protein is calming to the nervous system, eating a protein-rich meal every three hours can be very helpful. This is especially important in cases of severe oxidative stress, such as those with pyrrole disorder and copper/zinc imbalances.
  • Omega 3 fats are not for everyone. In those with pyrrole disorder, they create inflammation, while omega 6 fats provide anti-inflammatory protection. Note: in most cases, this does not mean fish requires exclusion, but it’s very important to steer clear of fish oil supplements.
  • Plant-based diets are high in copper and folate and tend to increase the frequency of episodes. Note: folate has a calming effect on overmethylators, but this does not mean a vegan/vegetarian diet is appropriate; animal protein is still required for these individuals to thrive.
  • Sugar causes the body to release adrenaline. If histamine is too high (undermethylation), eating sugar can cause adrenaline levels to spike, which in turn creates nervous energy and possible panic attacks. Same holds true for coffee and similar types of stimulants.
  • The high fat craze has garnered a lot of attention, but can also increase the frequency and severity of symptoms. Everyone’s fat requirements vary, but I don’t consider putting a stick of butter in your morning coffee to be the wisest choice.
  • In cases of yeast toxicity, animal protein is very healing (along with homemade bone broth for those that are not intolerant to free glutamates), because of its inability to provide food for them. Common triggers for yeast toxicity include sugar (natural and processed), vinegar, alcohol, most fermented foods, and simple carbohydrates.
  • Undermethylators thrive on high protein diets, while high folate foods increase symptoms. Note: a high histamine reading does not mean you need to avoid high histamine foods. Histamine intolerance is a separate issue from undermethylation, however, it is possible to be undermethylated and have an intolerance to high histamine foods along with supplement sensitivity.
  • Those with mast cell disorders or histamine intolerance often find relief on a low histamine diet along with avoidance or minimization of foods high in one or more of the following: salicylate, oxalate, glutamate, and often sulfur, while nutrient needs and imbalances are addressed. Learn more here.

If you know of someone who struggles with bipolar disorder, please share this post. If you struggle with it, please share your experience in the comments below. It is through sharing your story that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.


15 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder: Underlying Causes and Dietary Tips”

  1. I have had very, very, very, significant improvement in my bipolar disorder by following a low oxalate diet. The low oxalate diet has helped me more than any pill I have ever been given in more than 25 years of being bipolar. I still think I have some histamine issues though.

  2. I’m at my wit’s end. I’m pretty sure I have bipolar 2 and I don’t know what to eat. I did omad for a year and lost weight/felt better, it was good for insulin resistance I guess. But then depression happened and I went back to medicating w carbs and alcohol. Recently I tried to implement keto and I’m feeling so bad. Where to start …

    1. Hi Sarah – we are sorry to know you are struggling. It’s best to get an idea of where you are biochemically first, before starting a dietary or supplemental plan. Click here for more information about working with Sami.
      ~Eat for Life Team Member

  3. This article is great! Thank you x.
    I am 100% symptom free from bipolar 1 disorder after 20 years of debilitating symptoms. I experimented with home FMT (as the gut-brain axis was well documented), and within 6 months my depressive symptoms disappeared and within 9 months I was able to cease all regular medication. I have been med free for over a yr now and remained well. I know we cured bipolar. The FMT combined with nutrient therapy under the guidance of a Walsh trained Dr in Australia corrected my gut dysbiosis and biochemical imbalances. There is now a clinical trial happening in Canada treating bipolar depression with FMT. Soon there will be data to back up my experience. I now maintain my gut health with a ketogenic diet. Its almost miraculous. Here is my story on Australian TV, and a link to the Canadian study and Canadian News story I was also in. I am proof that bipolar can be cured, not just managed.

  4. Hi,
    I’m very interested in your study. I am actually seeking a naturopathic physician to help me wean off my bipolar meds because they have terrible side effects. She was telling me about how much the guy affects the brain. I definitely also have the body type that craves more animal protein than carbs. I’ve also noticed that caffeine gets me anxious as well as agitated. Do you know of anyone or any cases where a bipolar person has gone without medication and is managing with holistic options? Please let me know.

  5. I am bipolar, my son has asbergers/add. I am considering heading to the Mensah clinic. I have always wondered why I crave eggs and red meat. Especially eggs! I just know I feel a lot better when I eat them. My son shows the same tendency.
    My mental and physical health is one big spider web. And traditional medicine isn’t helping. I always go back to feeling like it’s nutritional, but am too sick, depressed, manic to address it. Unable to cook consistently due to being ill and I my asbergers kid is a terribly picky eater. I need someone who can help me sort through all of the info out there. I’m tired of throwing darts at the dart board, hoping something will stick.

  6. Interesting, I found switching to a diet free from meat, eggs and milk really helpful. Had my dna tested and it said to eat a low protein, low fat diet. Maybe it depends on our genes???

  7. Hi! So read a lot of your posts but wondering about what to eat when you need leave out the following:
    ‘Those with mast cell disorders or histamine intolerance often find relief on a low histamine diet along with avoidance or minimization of foods high in salicylate, oxalate, glutamate, and often sulfur, while nutrient needs and imbalances are addressed’

    Can you please give some examples? Seems like there’s nothing left to eat.. So discouraged right now..

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Viv,
      I understand your frustration. It’s not that you need to avoid all of these things, just those that are a trigger for you. And since everyone responds differently to them, it’s difficult to give examples. Keep in mind that diet alone with not correct a mast cell degranulation issue, but it is helpful short-term while the underlying cause(s) are addressed.

  8. My daughter is vegetarian, and cannot bring herself to eat meat anymore.

    If I could convince her, is collagen a suitable source of protein? What else? (Other than eggs.) MANY thanks, Kim

    1. Hi Kim,
      Collagen is an excellent form of protein, but it is not enough to maintain a healthy brain. She could try protein powders (beef or grass-fed whey), but I don’t recommend living on them. If she has a lack of taste or desire for meat, her zinc level is probably very low and should be tested among other important tests.

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