Are you feeling jittery or euphoric? Or maybe you’re dealing with insomnia. The cause may be that hot dog you had for lunch or the salami you snacked on last night. Nitrates — the chemicals used to cure processed meats — might be driving that abnormal mood, new research suggests.
A study found people hospitalized for a bout of mania were more than three times as likely to have eaten nitrate-cured meats than those who never had a major psychiatric disorder. The Johns Hopkins University researchers also replicated the manic behavior in rats: After several weeks on a nitrate-laden diet, the animals were significantly hyperactive.
The findings, the researchers said, add to evidence that diet and possibly the amount and type of gut bacteria can have profound influences on the brain. After studying dietary, health and demographic data from more than 1,000 people during a 10-year period, this is what stood out to the scientists: Other than cured meats, no other foods that participants were asked about had a significant association with mania.
Nitrates are common in preserved meat and have previously been associated with neurological issues and certain cancers. That may partially explain nitrates’ latest link to mania, the researchers said.
In the animal testing, rats were given a scaled-down amount of nitrates — roughly equal to a person eating one hot dog or jerky stick a day. Ultimately, the animals were found to have different gut bacteria and altered molecular pathways in the brain.
It’s an old punchline that you really don’t want to know what goes into a hot dog, but the study indicates the invisible nitrates might be the ingredient that really stands out.