Healthy lifestyle habits improve cognitive functioning in patients with bipolar disorder


According to research led by psychiatrists from the University Hospital Santa Maria and the IRBLleida

Healthy lifestyle habits and a correct diet improve the cognitive evolution of patients with bipolar disorder, according to the conclusions of a research project led by psychiatrists from the University Hospital Santa Maria and researchers from the Institute of Biomedical Research IRBLleida. Specifically, the researchers have detected that the interaction of presenting bipolar disorder and obesity or overweight predicts a worse cognitive functioning of patients in the short and long term. “Prevention and treatment programmes should specifically intervene on eating styles and healthy lifestyle habits from the initial stages of the disorder, as a way of preventing cognitive and functional dysfunction in bipolar disorder,” says Ester Mora, psychiatrist and researcher on the project.

Today, 30 March, is World Bipolar Disorder Day, a mental illness of unknown strength and its high prevalence – it affects 2.4% of the population – and the impact it has on patients and their environment. Bipolar disorder is a chronic, relapsing illness consisting of an episodic mood disorder, typically characterised by oscillating and recurring phases of euphoria called (hypo)mania and depressive phases, which impair the ability to maintain normal daily functioning. These phases alternate with symptom-free periods that are considered periods of remission.

Although less prevalent than depressive or anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder causes greater and more marked functional impairment in patients and a greater impact on their quality of life. In fact, bipolar disorder is the twelfth leading cause of disability worldwide in all age groups, causing a significant deterioration in the psychosocial functioning of patients, leading to poorer occupational and work performance, as well as poorer social integration.

The research project on overweight and obesity is part of a group of several projects to deepen the study of bipolar disorder. The professionals at Santa Maria and IRBLleida focus on the study of several factors that may affect the functioning of patients when they are in a phase of remission of symptoms.

This group has also studied the evolution of cognition in a sample of patients and also in the subgroup of patients who are excellent responders to lithium. “The conclusions show that cognitive dysfunction persists even during periods of clinical stability,” explains Maria Mur, psychiatrist and researcher.

On the other hand, the influence of cognitive reserve in these patients is also being studied. Cognitive reserve is understood as the capacity of the adult brain to better tolerate the effects of a certain pathology in order to minimise its symptoms. “Our work shows how, in the case of bipolar disorder, cognitive reserve acts as a protective factor with respect to the expression of the disease,” explains Irene Forcada, psychiatrist and researcher.

Finally, another project focuses on the role of neurotrophins and inflammatory and oxidative stress markers in clinical variables and cognitive dysfunction.

The work of this research group has been carried out thanks to the collaboration and selfless participation of patients and healthy volunteers. They have received various sources of funding, such as grants for research projects from the TV3 Marathon Foundation, the Carlos III Health Institute (Ministry of Health), and a grant from the Strategic Plan for Research and Innovation in Health (PERIS) of the Department of Health. The projects have received various national awards and prizes, and have been published in international journals in the field.

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