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Exploring the Role of Blood Sugar in Bipolar Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

In the past, I’ve had difficulties with my blood sugar. If I went more than four hours or so without eating, I got dizzy and weak. Fortunately, as long as I kept an eye on it and got food within that timeframe, I wasn’t overly bothered. Although, once I didn’t eat for so long and didn’t just get dizzy, my entire body started shaking.

But a good while back, when I was undiagnosed and unmedicated, I had a different relationship with food. When I was manicky (which in my case manifested as anxiety) I didn’t eat much.

But when I was depressed, I ate—poorly, but I ate. I had certain go-to depression foods. Sugared cereals. Carbohydrates like mashed potatoes, fries, and other comfort foods. And a peculiar combination of wavy potato chips and cream cheese topped by an M&M. My husband knew to get worried when I asked him to pick up those ingredients.

But back to blood sugar. The interactions between blood sugar and bipolar disorder are complicated because the interactions between the body and the mind are too. Let’s look at some of those interactions.

First, there are medications. It’s well-known that bipolar and other psychotropic medications can cause weight gain. And in turn, obesity can lead to diabetes. I have indeed gained weight—a lot of it, in fact. (I still prefer fat to misery.) I haven’t acquired diabetes, but I no longer get the low blood sugar weakies.

Then, there’s stress. Bipolar disorder can be affected by stress, of course. Stress can exacerbate the symptoms. The symptoms can cause stress. It can be hard to break the cycle. But stress releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline into the body, and those substances can cause blood sugar to rise. Poor quality sleep and irregular sleep patterns also affect your body’s chemicals in ways that can affect blood sugar.

Also, as I’ve learned, bipolar can alter your eating habits, causing your blood sugar to behave like a yo-yo. It can also affect your ability to care for yourself in other ways, such as not having the wherewithal to exercise. These lifestyle changes can also make your blood sugar fluctuate.

Also, though this isn’t well understood, there may be genetic factors that are associated with both bipolar disorder and high or low glucose levels. As always, more research is needed.

So, what does this all mean? First, that you should be aware of your blood sugar fluctuations. You could try tracking how they correspond to your moods and your lifestyle factors. I’m not saying that you need to get a glucose meter (though if you have one, that’s great). Just know that the two conditions can interact, and the more you know about how they affect you personally, the better off you’ll be. You may be able to make changes in your diet, exercise level, and sleep habits that will make a difference.

Stress reduction is also something that will be beneficial for both conditions. Your therapist may have recommended stress reduction techniques such as meditation or mindfulness (among others), and you may find that these help, too. If, like me, you have high levels of anxiety, your family doctor or psychiatrist may be able to prescribe you an anti-anxiety med that could also help regulate your sleep patterns.

Originally published: April 2, 2024
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