They can be found in things like salami, hot dogs, jerky, bacon and lunch meats, though those products can sometimes be purchased nitrate-free.
"While a beef-based diet with added sodium nitrate resulted in mania-like behavior compared to rats consuming beef-based diet without sodium nitrate, these changes did not appear to be as severe as those resulting from consumption of nitrate-processed cured meat itself, suggesting that another factor in nitrate-processed cured meat could interact with, or worsen, the effects of dietary nitrate alone", the team stated.
The chemical preservative nitrate used to cure meat could be responsible for triggering mood states such as mania, scientists said. Mania is characterized by hyperactivity, euphoria and insomnia. To do so, they fed cured meats to rats and observed which ingredients led to hyperactivity.
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Mania can involve delusional thinking and unsafe, risky behavior.
Robert Yolken, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, "Future work on this association could lead to dietary interventions to help reduce the risk of manic episodes in those who have bipolar disorder or who are otherwise vulnerable to mania".
The amount of nitrate consumed on a daily basis by the rats-when scaled up to the size of a human-was equivalent to the amount a person might eat for a daily snack, such as one beef jerky stick or hot dog.
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The researchers said that their study adds to evidence that certain foods, combined with certain types of gut bacteria, could contribute to mania and other disorders which affect the brain. They asked the same questions of people who did not have any psychiatric disorders. And the authors stressed that eating cured meat on occasion probably won't trigger a manic episode in most people. Patients with mania had been diagnosed with different forms of bipolar disorder or schizoaffective disorder. These animals also demonstrated changes to hippocampal pathways in the brain that have been implicated in human bipolar disorder, as well as alterations to their intestinal microbiota. "To our knowledge, this is the first study associating exposure to cured meat with a neuropsychiatric disorder", they point out, acknowledging that further studies will be needed.
"We'd need much more evidence of a link before making any recommendations to patients or the public in relation to the risk of eating cured meat and developing mania", said Dr. Anthony Cleare, a psychiatry professor at King's College London who was not involved in the study.
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