Does Consuming Bacon Increase Mania Risk?

Drew Ramsey, MD


April 09, 2019

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

What does bacon have to do with bipolar disorder? Well, Robert Yolken and his group at Johns Hopkins and Sheppard Pratt set out to understand more about that question.

They've published a two-part study—the first part is a human correlation study and the second part looks at some basic bench data using animal models—to describe how nitrated meat products can affect mental health and bipolar disorder.[1]

The first part of the study was the small human correlation study looking at individuals who'd been admitted to Sheppard Pratt—there were about 1100 patients in their sample. They found that high consumers of nitrated or cured meat products, such as bacon and salami, had 3.5 times the risk of having mania.

In the correlation study, the researchers also specifically examined meat sticks, which are types of processed meats and beef jerky that are commonly consumed in America. The researchers found that people were five times as likely to have mania if they were regular consumers of meat sticks.

To try to understand some of the cellular mechanisms underlying the influence of nitrates, the researchers turned to the lab and conducted a number of studies with rats. In these studies, they were looking at cellular expression in the hippocampus, changes in the microbiome, and also a number of behavioral rating scales.

The researchers found that these nitrate products changed rat physiology and behavior in a way that mimicked many of the underlying cellular mechanisms involved in mania and bipolar disorder.

Bottom line: Does bacon affect bipolar disorder? Certainly, it seems that there is some evidence that nitrates and their downstream products have profound effects on the same pathways that are implicated in bipolar disorder.

What does that mean clinically? I'm curious about what you might recommend to your patients or how you're talking about meat and meat products. Please let us know in the comments below.

I'm Dr Drew Ramsey. This is The Brain Food Blog.

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