Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine looked at the demographic, health, and dietary data of more than 1,000 people aged between 18 and 65 with and without psychiatric disorders. The researchers analyzed their records starting from 2007 to 2017. Based on their analysis, those who were hospitalized for mania were at least 3.5 times more likely to have eaten foods that contain nitrates, such as beef jerky, hot dogs, salami, and other cured and processed meats, compared to people without psychiatric disorders before hospitalization.
The researchers believed that nitrates present in these foods are responsible for this effect. No other foods about which participants were asked had a significant relation to mania or any other psychiatric disorders. Nitrates have long been used to preserve cured meats and have been previously linked to cancer and some types of neurodegenerative diseases. (Related: Most processed meat is cured with toxic chemicals known as nitrites and nitrates, which give them their distinctive red color.)
To learn more about the relationship between nitrates and mania risk, the researchers conducted a study looking at how nitrates affect mice. They had two groups of mice: one was fed with typical mice food, while the other received a mix of standard mice food and nitrate-prepared beef jerky. After two weeks, the mice that ate beef jerky exhibited irregular sleeping patterns and hyperactivity.
The same results appeared when the researchers repeated the same experiment using a type of dried beef that did not contain nitrates and a dried beef that contained nitrates. The researchers also assessed the mice' gut bacteria and found that those that consumed nitrates had different bacterial patterns in their intestines. In addition, they had differences in several molecular brain pathways associated with bipolar disorder.
The researchers say that their findings contribute to the evidence that certain foods and potentially amounts and types of gut bacteria play a role in the onset of mania and other conditions that affect the brain. In conclusion, they say that people who eat cured and processed meats and other foods containing nitrates are more likely to develop mania.
In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled processed meat as a carcinogen and red meat as a potential carcinogen.
For the IARC report published in The Lancet Oncology, 22 experts from 10 countries looked at more than 800 studies. They discovered that consuming 50 grams (g) of processed meat – about four strips of bacon or one hot dog – every day resulted in an 18 percent greater risk of colorectal cancer. This would increase the average lifetime colon cancer risk to nearly six percent. For red meat, they saw an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
Experts recommend following a diet that limits processed meat and red meat, and that is rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Instead of consuming red meat and processed meat, experts recommend eating fish, poultry, or beans. Having a healthy lifestyle, such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption, can help cut the risk of developing various types of cancer.
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