A recent study has suggested that consumption of processed meats like bacon and hot dogs can be linked to mental breakdowns.
Experiments with rats by the same researchers revealed mania-like hyperactivity after just a few weeks on diets with added nitrates.
People who ended up in the hospital diagnosed with mania were 3.5 times more likely to regularly eat nitrate-cured meats, compared to people with no history of serious psychiatric disorders. Co-author Prof Robert Yolken said: "We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out".
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.
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Mania, found in those with bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, can put the people who suffer from them at risk because manic episodes can cause risk-taking behaviors and delusional thinking. Mania is characterized by hyperactivity, euphoria and insomnia. Manic states can lead to unsafe risk-taking behavior and can include delusional thinking, and most of those affected experience multiple hospitalizations in the course of their psychiatric illness.
The study authors found further specific insights: Recently consuming meat sticks like Slim Jims, beef jerky, or turkey jerky increased the odds of being in the mania group. "Bipolar disorder and mania are highly complex, and there remains much work to be done to determine their underlying pathophysiology", a team said in a statement to Laboratory Equipment.
Taylor is now running a study which involves flushing out the gut bacteria of people with bipolar disorder and giving them fecal transplants from people known to be in good mental health, to see if it can lead to lesser symptoms and improved conditions. And Yolken said other studies have shown that people who have manic episodes show signs of inflammation in their bodies.
Indeed, Kellie Tamashiro, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine who worked on the rat study, noted that rats are far from ideal analogues to human beings.
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Professor Yolken added: "There's growing evidence that germs in the intestines can influence the brain".
Nitrates are chemicals that are sometimes added to processed and cured meats as preservatives.
Moreover, those rats had different patterns of gut bacteria from rats not fed nitrates. 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. In the study, some people without a history of psychiatric disorders also consumed meats with nitrates.
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In previous research, Yolken and his colleagues discovered that when given probiotics that alter the bacteria of the gut, patients with bipolar disorder were less likely to be hospitalized six months later.