Can processed meat lead to mental illness?
It has been known for a long time that the consumption of processed meat is not beneficial to human health. Researchers have now found that eating processed meat also favors mental illness.
In their current study, scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that consuming processed meat can lead to manic episodes. The experts published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Molecular Psychiatry".
Examination on over 1,000 test subjects
The study examined more than 1,000 volunteers, including people with mental disorders. The doctors found that processed meat-consuming people had to go to hospital three and a half times more for mania. If there are manic episodes, those affected become hyperactive, euphoric and often have trouble sleeping. Most of the time, they don't find themselves sick, but rather particularly powerful. Experts say that one or two people in 100 people are affected by such manic episodes. For example, Hollywood actress Carrie Fisher (Star Wars) suffered from manic episodes before she passed away in 2016.
Nitrates affect the brain and intestinal bacteria
So-called manic episodes are part of a bipolar disorder that was formerly known as manic depression. Eating processed meat appears to increase the risk of a manic episode. Nitrates, which are used as meat preservatives, affect the brain and intestinal bacteria of humans. And in people with a bipolar disorder, nitric oxide could be found in the blood in higher concentrations, the scientists explain.
Diet changes could help those affected
Future studies of this association could lead to dietary interventions to reduce the risk of manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder, study author Dr. Robert Yolken from Johns Hopkins University. This also affects people who are particularly susceptible to manic episodes.
Nitrates triggered mania in rats in a few weeks
To test the effects of nitrates, the US researchers added nitrates to rats' diets, which showed signs of mania after only a few weeks. In the human study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University asked participants if they were consuming dried, processed meat. The subjects had to provide information about their consumption of so-called meat sticks or jerky from turkey and dried meat, as well as the prosciutto and salami consumption. Salami and prosciutto could not be associated with mania.
Where can nitrates be found?
So-called meat sticks and jerky are popular snacks in the USA, with a high content of nitrates. In addition, nitrates are also used as preservatives in some sausages and can be found in bacon and burgers. Nitrates changed the intestinal bacteria in rats and were clearly associated with psychological problems, the researchers report. This was followed by proof that when people with bipolar disorder take probiotics, they are less likely to have to be admitted to hospital, the scientists report.
Is smoked meat particularly harmful?
It is clear that mania is a complex neuropsychiatric state and that genetic vulnerabilities and environmental factors are likely to be involved in the occurrence and severity of bipolar disorder and the associated manic episodes, explains study author Seva Khambadkone from Johns Hopkins University. The results suggest that nitrated pickled meat could be an important factor in the development of mania, the expert adds. A number of different dietary exposures were examined and the smoked meat was really outstanding, explains Dr. Yolken continues. In addition, processed meat is known to increase the risk of colon cancer. (as)