Does Jerky Make You Manic?

Does Jerky Make You Manic?


There’s a strange link between meat and your mind.

My goodness, has there been some strange news floating around about meat this summer. You’ve probably heard about how tick bites can trigger an allergy to beef, lamb, pork and venison, to such an extent that a former burger lover can go into anaphylactic shock if he or she eats meat. Well, the meat report just got even more convoluted. Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that beef jerky and other meat snacks may cause mania, both in people with and without psychiatric disorders. The culprit is thought to be the nitrates, used as a preservative and to keep meats an appealing pinkish color; they can be found in foods such as hot dogs, salami, beef jerky and other processed meat treats.

The John Hopkins research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. An analysis of 1,000 people showed that people who had been treated at a hospital for an episode of mania had more than three times the odds of ever having eaten nitrate-cured meats than people without a history of the disorder. Mania is an abnormal mood state that has symptoms such as insomnia, hyperactivity, euphoria, grandiose beliefs and inappropriate behavior. It can last weeks or even months and is most often associated with bipolar disorder.

The same researchers experimented on rats; they found that after a few weeks of being fed rat chow and store-bought jerky with added nitrates, the rats exhibited signs of mania—that is, hyperactivity. Rats who received chow and a nitrate-free dried beef behaved similarly to a control group who had received chow and no jerky at all.

The research team cautioned that it was too early to jump to conclusions, and that the occasional snack of jerky or hot dog is unlikely to cause a manic episode in most people. But the study does add to the growing body of evidence that the way bacteria in the gut and the brain interact. Lead author Robert Yolken, M.D., of Johns Hopkins, wrote, “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.”

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