Nutritional intervention in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

The NQDIT is a groundbreaking clinical trial investigating the impact of a carefully monitored diet on the well-being of individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Nutrition in mental health

Eating healthy to stay healthy – both mentally and physically – has long been anyone’s wisdom, passed down by generations in accordance to our unique cultural heritages. But what exactly does it mean to do so? What food are we supposed to eat in order to stay in good health, how much of it, and how frequently?

Nutritional Neurosciences is a relatively new discipline investigating the precise effects of food and diet on our brain and mental wellbeing.

By looking at the science behind nutrition and its interaction with our body, we have learned that the gut and the brain are closely connected.

Small signalling molecules called hormones and other chemical messengers produced in large part by our friendly gut bacteria, seem to be talking to each other constantly in a system of check and balances. If anything is off, these little messengers will flock to specific brain areas and drive our behaviour, for example by telling us that we need to drink or eat more, what food we are lacking or having too much of. They may promote or hinder our physical energy levels, our clarity of thinking and even appear to modulate our mood and feelings in complex and fascinating ways. 

Our project

The North Queensland Dietary Intervention Trial (NQDIT) is a first-of-its-kind clinical trial that will directly study the effects of eating a selected, nutritionally balanced and tightly monitored diet, on the mental and physical health of those who suffer with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The study has been carefully designed by our local team at James Cook University and Townsville Hospital right here in North Queensland, Australia, in collaboration with international experts from the USA and Europe. The project is independently funded by the Baszucki Brain Research Fund, a not-for-profit philanthropic organisation that , like us, truly believes that ‘we can eat our way to good mental and physical health.

Our sponsors

"Those living with bipolar disorder have historically made outsized contributions to science, academia, government and the arts, yet bipolar research has been tragically underfunded. Our dream is that by spotlighting and accelerating the work of the most promising researchers in the field, we can bring hope to patients and families who will benefit from transformative new treatments."

Our research team

Professor Zoltan Sarnyai

Principal Investigator
Head of the Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience,
James Cook University

A/Professor Calogero Longhitano

Principal Investigator
A/Prof. of psychiatry and Forensic psychiatrist
James Cook University and Queensland Health

Sabine Finlay

Research Coordinator

Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience
James Cook University

Dr. Beena Suvarna

Clinical Research Associate

Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience
James Cook University

Jaymee-Leigh Swift

Clinical Dietitian

James Cook University

Eligibility criteria:

  • You must be living in or around Townsville, QLD.
  • You must have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 1 or 2, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder.
  • You must have had 3 months with no major episodes.
  • You must be aged 18 or above.
  • You must be able to provide informed consent to take part in the study.
  • You must be able to speak, read and understand English.

Description of the study

  • From January 2024 – May 2025, participants will be recruited through the community centres, GPs and Townsville University Hospital.
  • A dietician will support participants throughout the 14-week study.
  • Mood will be assessed by a psychiatrist throughout the trial.
  • Blood tests will be used to find out how nutrition affects energy metabolism in the brain and body.

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