Meat sticks and jerky are popular snacks in the U.S., and less so in the United Kingdom, however nitrates are used here as preservatives for a minority of sausages and may also be in bacon and burgers.
The researchers found that those who were hospitalized for an episode of mania (hyperactivity, euphoria and insomnia) were 3.5 times as likely to have ever eaten nitrate-cured meats as those with no history of a serious mental disorder.
Other research also found that rats displayed mania-like behavior after eating foods with added nitrates for just a few weeks.
Nitrates have always been used as preservatives in cured meat products and have been previously linked to some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, so Yolken suspected they may also explain the link to mood states such as mania.
Hotdogs and other cured meat such as salami and beef jerky may be causing manic episodes, according to a new study.
To test the connection, Yolken fed lab rats diets of added nitrates.
Researchers caution that the study was not created to show a cause-and-effect relationship, only a correlation between the two behaviours. Rats given a nitrate-free jerky did not show similar changes in behavior. The amount of nitrates used in these experiments were the equivalent of a human eating one hot dog or beef jerky stick per day.
Experts are increasingly of the belief that, in addition to genetic circumstances, diet or other environmental factors may play a role in causing mental health issues.
The rat experiments bore this theory out, as rats who had consumed nitrates showed different patterns of gut bacteria and unique brain patterns previously linked to bipolar disorder.
That evidence includes a 2016 study which found that people with migraine headaches have higher levels of a bacterium that breaks down nitrates, suggesting that the bacteria may be playing a part in causing the migraines. It follows evidence that giving people with bipolar disorder probiotics, to alter their gut bugs, makes them less likely to be rehospitalised.
Lead author Dr Robert Yolken, from 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 study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found nitrates changed the gut bacteria of rats, which may be linked to mental health problems.