Beef jerky and other processed meats linked to manic episodes, say scientists

Pearl Mccarthy
July 20, 2018

A new study has suggested that eating beef jerky and other processed meats may lead to manic episodes.

Experiments with rats by the same researchers revealed mania-like hyperactivity after just a few weeks on diets with added nitrates.

They found that people hospitalized for mania were three times as likely to say they had eaten cured meats compared with people who did not have a psychiatric disorder.

Prof Yolked explained: 'We looked at a number of different dietary exposures and cured meat really stood out.

The chemical preservative nitrate used to cure meat could be responsible for triggering mood states such as mania, scientists said. The rats that ate the jerky soon exhibited irregular sleeping patterns and hyperactivity. To do so, they fed cured meats to rats and observed which ingredients led to hyperactivity.

The team's published paper is titled, "Nitrated meat products are associated with mania in humans and altered behaviour and brain gene expression in rats".

Mania is generally seen in people with mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder.

The condition is complex and involves "both genetic vulnerabilities and environmental factors", Seva Khambadkone, who worked on the study, said in the statement. Diet has been highlighted as a potentially key environmental factor that may contribute to the risk of BPD and other neuropsychiatric disorder risks, through a variety of mechanisms that may range from neurotoxicity from trace heavy metals, to changes to the gut microbiome and gut-brain axis. And the authors stressed that eating cured meat on occasion probably won't trigger a manic episode in most people. Nitric oxide is found in higher levels within the blood of people with bipolar disorder.

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They are part of bipolar disorder, which used to be called 'manic depression'.

Dietary exposure to nitrate-cured meat has previously been implicated in disorders including different types of cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but the underlying mechanisms aren't understood, the researchers point out.

Yolken and other researchers have shown that altering the microbiome can affect the symptoms of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia.

When the group analyzed the gut bacteria of the different groups of rats, they found that animals with nitrate in their diet had different patterns of bacteria living in their intestines than the other rats.

The researchers noted that future studies must be done to determine the amount of cured meat that may raise an individual's risk of mania, but the researchers fed the rats the equivalent to snack-sized portions, or the normal amount of processed meat with nitrates that a person may be consuming.

Nitrates have always been used as preservatives in cured meat products and have been previously linked to some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.

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.

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