Over two million American adults are estimated to suffer from bipolar disorder, in which they experience periods of extreme excitability (mania), alternating with periods of depression. Such periods can last for days or months. When a complete cycle of moods occurs more than four times a year, it is called "fast cycling."
The symptoms often begin in adolescence and affect men and women equally, although recently more children are being diagnosed with bipolar. Some researchers believe that children with ADHD who are treated with antipressant drugs and later become bipolar will have more severe symptoms.
Unlike the normal "ups" and "downs" most people experience, the individual with bipolar disorder has symptoms that can profoundly affect their lives and relationships with others. Treatment has generally been with a variety of drugs. Such treatment has had mixed results and is often discontinued because of unpleasant side effects. Even when medication brings relief, it is limited to addressing the symptoms, not the underlying cause(s) of the problem.
Once called "manic depressive disorder," the abrupt change in mood that it a characteristic of bipolar disorder can be caused by many things. Exposure to harmful chemicals and a deficiency in important nutrients can result in extremes of behavior in some people. Parents have often referred to the classic book Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde to describe how their child can have extreme changes in behavior, sometimes in as little as 20 minutes after he has eaten a food with synthetic additives. A sensitive person who is exposed to fumes from various gasses and chemicals (including gasoline and fragrances) might have a profound change in their mood or behavior even more quickly.
Although to our knowledge no research has been done specifically on bipolar disorder or mood swings and diet, most of the studies on diet and ADHD, conduct disorder, or hyperactivity mention improved stability of mood as a result of the implementation of a Feingold-type diet. Studies of fish oil and depression have also shown improvement of mood and behavior.
One of our members reported that her child - already on the Feingold Program for years - was having a bizarre behavioral change every two weeks. While he had not yet been formally diagnosed, a psychologist friend had already suggested the likelihood of bipolar disorder. She called for advice, and we suggested that she go into his school and find out what happened every two weeks. It turned out that the school polished the floors with strong-smelling chemicals on a schedule coinciding with his behavioral change. Since the maintenance company did not want to change their use of the chemicals, she had a choice of fighting the school as an advocate for her child or finding a different school. She took on the school with the aid of her state's parent advocacy group, and prevailed.