Bipolar II and diet
June 10, 2013 8:50 PM   Subscribe

"Curing" bipolar II through diet (specifically, by giving up sugar, alcohol and caffeine). Is this BS?

This guy claims that giving up sugar, caffeine and alcohol cured him of bipolar II. While I recognize that giving up these substances is bound to have positive effects in someone with a mood disorder, it seems too good to be true that his horribly burdensome mood disorder was effectively caused by a few easily eliminated substances. I'd always thought that bipolar II was a condition that absolutely required medication to manage.

I did a little googling, and saw a few sites suggesting that a ketogenic diet might work. That seems more likely to me than simply giving up refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol. But does anyone else have insight into this?
posted by whistle pig to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I tell this story of my own journey of financial self-transformation, between the ages of 30-34, in my upcoming book The Education of Millionaires – though I’m not a millionaire—yet!)

This guy seems to be a borderline con-man selling a get-rich-quick scheme. His story is definitely too good to be true. If diet changes were a magical cure for serious mental illness, therapists would recommend nothing but.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:16 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

If someone said they cured their broken leg through diet changes, would you believe them?
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:27 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not bipolar, but I have other mental health issues. I have gone through periods of years where I was totally fine without medication--even though at some of those times I was doing all the wrong things re: diet, exercise, etc. Correlation does not equal causation, but it's really tempting to believe.

And, yeah. I'm sure there's some people who are helped by dietary changes like this, including some who're helped enough to no longer need medication. It's one of those things: Giving up a few non-essential-and-arguably-not-good-for-you-anyway things for a few months is absolutely worth a try, but don't expect miracles.
posted by Sequence at 9:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I tried it about fifteen or so years ago. It didn't work. I cast off psychiatrists and medications and said, "I'll take care of this on my own." and did exactly what you said. I gave up caffeine, and sugar, and alcohol (not that I drank in the first place)... the whole shebang. I went through years of thinking I was "better." I'll just say that it's funny how we can become blind to our own moods, deny them even when the consequences stare us straight in the face. I seriously thought this diet was doing me good and I could handle this whole bipolar thing on my own. Wrong. Oh, so very wrong. It took a deep dive into suicidal depression to realize how wrong I was. So, in my experience, it's all a bunch of hooey.
posted by patheral at 9:57 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

This episode of People's Pharmacy might be of interest to you, as it discusses the effects of diet and supplements on mental health issues. It doesn't delve into the effects of giving up sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, though.
posted by needled at 10:06 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm not bipolar, but I do have other severe mental illness problems that look a lot like bipolar 2 sometimes. I am on a ketogenic diet and it has done absolutely nothing for my brain. But I didn't expect it to. The only things a ketogenic diet has been proven to treat are epilepsy (in children) and obesity (low carb diets). Can also help with type 2 diabetes, and early positive studies have been done with Altzheimer's/dementia. I've lost 50 pounds, but I am just as crazy as I was before. Though I do feel better about myself and my blood pressure is lower.

It is something you could do for your overall health even while on meds, and you might feel generally better from lowered inflammation, but unless you have a major food allergy or sensitivity that is causing a truly spectacular syndrome that looks like bipolar 2 it is not a 'cure.' Just giving up sugar and caffiene isn't enough either.
posted by monopas at 10:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The existence of Mormons with bipolar II would be strong evidence that giving up alcohol and caffeine, at least, doesn't cure bipolar II.

The existence of diabetic Mormons with bipolar II -- and I'd be very surprised if the intersection of those sets was empty -- would be overwhelmingly persuasive evidence that you can give up sugar, booze, and caffeine and still have bipolar-II.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

What follows is nothing more than my opinion as a layperson who happens to be a long term mental health patient.

Bipolar II is currently the trendy catch-all diagnosis. It could mean mild bipolar (if there is such a thing) or complex PTSD or treatment-resistant depression or out-of-control anxiety or your doctor is stumped. If you have this diagnosis, it means that your condition doesn't fit neatly into any particular diagnostic basket and that it's probably not your first time at the mental health roller derby. So lifestyle changes alone will probably not "cure" you.

If your bipolar II is like bipolar I, then you would tend to be attracted to anything that lets you off the hook from actual treatment. That's typical bipolar. Beware this tendency. I know that this sounds Catch 22-ish, but if sunlight, vitamins, and positive thoughts could cure serious mental health disorders, then we'd be living in a better universe.

Lifestyle changes can be good but they're no substitute for genuine insight and medical intervention as needed. Good luck. Memail me if you want, anytime.
posted by gentian at 10:30 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

No, it doesn't. Go to a doctor.
posted by whitneyarner at 10:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bipolar is a cyclical disorder. It can also change character as one ages. As such a lot of people are honestly convinced that changes they made effected a cure when what really happened was that an episode of depression or mania had simply run its course at about the same time as the change was introduced. Same thing applies to anecdotal evidence for pharmacological.

The real evidence for something being antidepressant, antimania, or mood stabilizer is that it worked well for a good many more people when compared to an untreated group or a group treated with a proven therapeutic agent.

But-- I'm not sure every individual with bipolar has the same physiology. Lithium is very therapeutic for some people and ineffective and to toxic for others. Lifestyle changes do help. I've seen studies that ketogenic diets are helpful for some refractory cases of epilepsy. A number of antimania/mood stabilizers are also antiseizure drugs. I have seen papers that synchrony and kindling effects like in epilepsy might have some relationship to bipolar. I'm not saying a ketogenic diet couldn't ever be of benefit.

There are studies that fish oil is helpful with bipolar. Its mostly been studied as an adjunct to traditional meds. I think nutrition and alternative medicine has value to offer but there is also a lot to be weary of as well.
posted by logonym at 12:17 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My father has bipolar and repeatedly "discovers" some magical cure for it. Some sort of exercise, or diet, or other change in his life (changing jobs, getting divorced, remarried, changing his sleeping patterns). He preaches to all and sundry about how awesome his solution is and how he doesn't need his medication any more.

Then a year or two later he goes off the deep end into depression or mania, takes a while to be persuaded to see a doctor again, starts taking meds, and is stable again, until the next magical cure.

I have a couple of other friends with bipolar and I gather this belief that you've found some way to live without meds is kind of common. And a common way to end up back in hospital.
posted by lollusc at 12:49 AM on June 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

There is a woman called Liz Miller who claims to have treated her Bipolar with a specific diet.
posted by Solomon at 2:00 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My partner gave up all those things for an extended period of time when he was manic as fuck. He remained manic as fuck.

Now, there are some who would say your average person with bipolar should be drastically limiting their booze intake anyway, so cutting it back might help them manage their behavior better, but it's not a cure.
posted by Stacey at 3:19 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have read the article. I spent almost ten years after my BP2 diagnosis in the hands of the experts all of whom were convinced that a magic bullet would cure me. It was ten years of hell. In and out of psych wards, numerous scary side effects and situations driven by bouts of mania and depression that ruined my work life and my family life. That I lived to write this is a miracle. I was saved by accident. Eight years ago my local hospital needed People with BP2 to undergo therapy. I was offered a year of weekly psychotherapy sessions. It worked wonders, enaabling me to process some of my baggage but more importantly to take control of my condition and plan a life that I can cope with. Eight years later I live a totally different life that involves huge compromises but I take no medication and have required no trips to the psych wards. I still suffer from mania and depression but the are no longer damaging to the same extent. I work very hard at managing my condition. My compromises include avoiding alcohol and caffeine (and any other drugs) and ensuring I eat a healthy balanced diet. These are the tip of the iceberg mind. I am used to my story being dismissed by experts as nonsense. We live in a world where there are billions to be made selling cures and therefore millions are spent selling them. When I realised that there is no cure, my life became worth living.
posted by BenPens at 4:35 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you can get by taking Seroquel without several cups of tea or coffee a day to keep you from falling asleep standing up, then good luck to you.
posted by mippy at 6:09 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I suspected it was hogwash, or this article-writer was deluding himself, and am now more convinced thanks to some of you who shared your stories.

At the same time, cutting out sugar, alcohol and caffeine is far from the worst thing one can do.

(mippy, the guy in the article I read didn't have to worry about falling asleep on Seroquel because he didn't have to take it. Because he was miraculously cured! Through diet alone! Sigh.)

(BenPens, that's awesome that you are managing without medication but sounds like you've worked very hard at it--a lot harder than simply giving up sugar et al.)
posted by whistle pig at 6:32 AM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: Solomon, that's an interesting video you linked to.
posted by whistle pig at 6:40 AM on June 11, 2013

Here's part one of it. Sample size of one, not scientifically proven, YMMV, etc.
posted by Solomon at 7:03 AM on June 11, 2013

I don't know much about bipolar, but I will say one thing about the fact that it is much harder to control your mood when your blood sugar is crashing. Eating excess sugar and carbs get you on a rollercoaster of ups and downs in your blood sugar and I can definitely say from experience that has a direct impact on my moods. Not only diabetics experience blood sugar issues. Diets like Paleo get you off that rollercoaster. It probably won't cure you, but it may help the lows and highs a bit.
posted by photoexplorer at 8:10 AM on June 11, 2013

Also worth noting: giving up sugar, alcohol, and caffeine is hard. If someone's been depressed for a while, they might not have the wherewithal to give up those comforts. Once they start recovering from the depression for other reasons, though, they might feel inspired and capable of such drastic dietary changes. So really it's the recovery from depression that helps them cut out sugar, alcohol, and caffeine, rather than cutting those things out leading to recovery.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 8:19 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that Bipolar is a default diagnosis. I see bipolar as a spectrum disorder. I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, but I have significant emotional intensity & volatility that could be manic-depressive if it were even more intense & volatile. I also have years of developing coping mechanisms. Do your best to identify your level of emotional intensity, emotional volatility, increases in energy, sleeplessness, and fast thinking or speech. That can help you work with a smart doctor to prescribe accurately.

A lot of people report that they are helped by having a strong daily routine, getting a lot of exercise, being outdoors - especially in nature and sunlight, vitamins D & B-complex, fish oil, SAM-e, and general good nutrition - lots of vegetables, some fruit, lots of fiber, whole grains, protein, and limited empty calories, including limited alcohol. These are all things that are pretty good for you. A good therapist who helps deal with emotional baggage as well as coaching on how to assess my mental status, learn centering & meditation, and learn effective emotional management skills has been critical for me, and helps me keep the med dosages lower as I work through several years of living crisis-to-crisis(largely external) and having the inevitable crash.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

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