There is no direct evidence that paleo diets improve bipolar disorder, but various dietary changes could help with your symptoms.

When it comes to managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, there are several effective evidence-based treatments.

Bipolar disorder treatment usually involves medication and therapy. Medication can alter certain brain chemicals to help reduce the symptoms, and therapy can help people manage day-to-day life with the condition.

Dietary interventions are another tool that might help people manage their symptoms, and research from 2018 suggests that diet can play an important role in managing bipolar disorder.

But what diets can help with bipolar disorder symptoms — and what does the research say about the paleo diet?

The Paleolithic (paleo) diet is inspired by the “hunter-gatherer” diet of our Stone-Age ancestors. It includes eating plenty of:

  • lean meats and fish
  • low-glycemic fruits and vegetables (those that don’t have much impact on your blood sugar levels)
  • nuts and seeds

The paleo diet also limits grains, refined sugars, and processed foods. As such, this diet is:

  • high in protein and fiber
  • moderate in healthy fats
  • low in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats

Research on the benefits of the paleo diet for mental health is extremely limited. In fact, research on the paleo diet is generally sparse, and most studies explore its physical health effects only.

For example, one analysis from 2019 reported that the paleo diet may be associated with a reduction in body weight, waist circumference, and BMI.

In a 2020 analysis, researchers didn’t find any significant benefits of the paleo diet over other diets regarding glucose and insulin control, which are important physical health markers.

However, some of the studies in the analysis showed decreases in fasting glucose concentrations after following a paleo diet — but this seems to happen with most lower carbohydrate diets, not just the paleo diet.

So, what does this research suggest for people with bipolar disorder?

While there are no studies that show direct benefits of the paleo diet for bipolar disorder, some possible benefits mentioned above may indirectly affect bipolar disorder symptoms.

For example, one 2016 study found that impaired glucose metabolism in people with bipolar disorder was associated with:

Given that the paleo diet is lower in carbohydrates — and eating fewer carbohydrates can help improve glucose control and insulin levels — this may indirectly help improve bipolar disorder symptoms. But this link is only vague, and there is no official research that suggests that this is the case.

Ultimately, more research is still needed in this area to determine if following a paleo diet is beneficial in helping people with bipolar disorder manage symptoms.

Many of the studies on the paleo diet involve the physical benefits of the diet, such as weight loss, blood pressure improvements, or changes in lipid levels. But virtually no studies have explored the paleo diet’s benefits for mental health.

While we can make some potential connections between the paleo diet and mental health, it’s difficult to say whether these are direct connections.

For example, according to a 2010 review, a large amount of research suggests a link between weight and depression — and the paleo diet can contribute to weight loss, which may help reduce symptoms of depression.

But people who follow specific diets (like the paleo diet) may also be doing other activities known to help with depression, such as exercising or socializing more.

So, while the paleo diet may have potential mental health benefits, more research is still needed.

As with any diet, the paleo diet isn’t for everyone — and there are restrictions within the diet that may potentially do more harm than good for certain individuals:

  • More red meat. Red meat is one of the features of the paleo diet, in addition to other lean meat choices and fish. And while grass-fed red meats may contain more healthy fats than typical meat cuts, 2020 research still suggests that red meat consumption may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
  • No whole grains. Grains and whole grains are off-limits when you’re following the paleo diet. However, eating whole grains can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, improve digestive health, and possibly even reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
  • No legumes. Legumes, which include beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and peanuts, are also restricted on the paleo diet. Because legumes are high in protein, healthy fats, B-vitamins, and other nutrients, limiting this food group means missing out on the health benefits of legumes, like a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • No dairy. Dairy is another excluded food group from the paleo diet. Since dairy is a good source of calcium and vitamin D (both of which are crucial for bone health), these nutrients may be limited on a paleo diet — especially when other sources of these nutrients, like orange juice and beans, are also off-limits.

Because of these potential health risks, it’s always best to consider reaching out to your doctor before starting the paleo diet.

No official research suggests following a specific diet for bipolar disorder — but according to 2018 research, certain foods may help people manage their symptoms.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids

According to 2020 research, omega-3 fatty acids may help improve the symptoms of certain behavioral and mood disorders. This includes bipolar disorder and depression (a feature of bipolar disorder).

If you want to get more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, try eating more:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
  • flax seeds and chia seeds
  • walnuts

Foods high in antioxidants

A 2021 study reports that there may be a link between bipolar disorder and inflammation. Antioxidants are compounds that can help reduce inflammation, which in turn can help reduce symptom severity.

To get more antioxidants into your diet, try adding foods like:

  • dark fruits and vegetables (think berries and dark leafy greens)
  • dark chocolate
  • nuts and seeds

You can also find essential antioxidants like n-acetyl cysteine (NAC) in animal proteins like meat, fish, and poultry, which 2021 research suggests may help reduce symptoms.

Other dietary changes

Older studies have suggested a possible link between changes in vitamin B metabolism and bipolar disorder. But the research on the role of vitamin B supplementation in bipolar disorder is mixed, so it’s difficult to say whether supplementation could help.

Newer 2018 research suggests that there may be a link between low vitamin D levels and the risk of conditions like bipolar disorder. However, once again, the research on vitamin D supplementation and bipolar disorder is too sparse to say whether it could help or not.

There is no one specific diet recommended for everyone with bipolar disorder. Instead, following a well-rounded, balanced diet is the best way to support your physical and mental health.

There is no evidence to suggest that following a paleo diet can reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, other dietary changes may help, such as eating more foods with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.

More research is still needed to determine just how much of an impact dietary changes can have on bipolar disorder symptoms.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, consider checking out the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)’s digital resources to learn more about other effective treatment options for this condition.

You can find more information about bipolar disorder at Psych Central’s bipolar disorder resource hub.