A recent study has suggested that consumption of processed meats like bacon and hot dogs can be linked to mental breakdowns.
People who have been hospitalized for mania are much more likely to have eaten nitrate-infused meats than the general public, according to a new study.
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.
"There's growing evidence that germs in the intestines can influence the brain", said study lead author Dr. Robert Yolken.
Yolken was originally interested in studying the effect foods may have on mental illness, and conducted a demographic study of 1,101 people both with and without mental disorders. "We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out", Yolken said.
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There are other reasons to be cautious about these results: In an exploratory study with lots of different, unrelated questions, the odds of a false positive are higher, the question about having "ever" eaten cured meats was fairly vague and the total population studied was fairly small for this kind of research.
The researchers also tested the gut bacteria of the different groups of rats and those who had consumed the nitrate jerky had different gut bacteria than the other groups of rats. No other foods were linked with mania, and nitrate-cured meats were not directly associated with a diagnosis of any other neuropsychiatric disorder, including schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, BPD, bipolar depression, or major depressive disorder. In addition, he worked with a jerky manufacturer to develop a nitrate-free jerky, and when he fed animals this jerky, they did not develop hyperactivity or sleep disturbances - although the rats fed commercial jerky with nitrates (in the amount that would be found in a beef jerky stick or hot dog), did. "This work on nitrates opens the door for future studies on how that may be happening". The rats showed mania-like hyperactivity just after a few weeks.
So the researchers tried testing rats, feeding them beef jerky loaded with nitrates every other day. The animals also had differences in several molecular pathways in the brain that have been previously implicated in bipolar disorder.
While a number of genetic and other risk factors have been linked to manic episodes that characterize bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, those factors have been unable to explain the cause of these illnesses.
The human study wasn't powered to investigate cause-and-effect, so the team next investigated the potential effects of nitrate-cured meats on the behaviors of healthy rats.
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.