Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious and chronic mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but it is believed that a combination of altered brain structure, environment, and genetics may play a role. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme changes in their mood, ranging from manic (high) episodes to low (depressive) episodes. There is no cure for this condition, but with proper treatment, it is possible to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some people with bipolar disorder have reportedly experienced relief from their symptoms by using alternative treatments. Here are some alternative treatments for bipolar disorder you can consider, but not without consulting your doctor first.

Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

N-acetylcysteine

One of the commonly used alternative treatments for bipolar disorder is N-acetylcysteine.(1,2) Even though in recent years, studies have found that N-acetylcysteine does not really help in treating the disease, but many people still continue to use it.(3) N-acetylcysteine is an antioxidant that is known to reduce oxidative stress in the body. A review of several studies has found that a randomized controlled trial of people with bipolar disorder, who added two grams of N-acetylcysteine each day to their ongoing medication for bipolar disorder, experienced a significant improvement in mania, depression, and overall quality of life.(4)

Fish Oil

Fish oil and fish are well-known sources of two main types of omega-3 fatty acids.(5) These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).(6,7) These fatty acids are known to have an impact on the chemicals in your brain that are directly linked with mood disorders.
Studies have found that in countries where people consume fish and fish oil regularly, bipolar disorder is less common.(8) People with depression have also been found to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their bloodstream.(9)

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to have many benefits, including:

  • Maintain mood stability
  • Reduce the symptoms of depression
  • Decrease aggression and irritability
  • Improve overall brain function

While you can take fish oil supplements to meet the daily requirement of omega-3 fatty acid, fish oil supplements are also known to have some side effects, including:

S-adenosylmethionine

S-adenosylmethionine is a molecule that is naturally produced in the body. It can also be manufactured in the laboratory. This molecule is involved in the formation, activation, or breakdown of chemicals like proteins, hormones, phospholipids, and certain drugs in the body.(10)

A review of studies has found that the supplement form of this supplement could be beneficial in depression.(11) S-adenosylmethionine supplements are, therefore, also believed to be helpful alternative treatment for bipolar disorder.

However, a high dosage of these supplements can lead to severe side effects, including triggering manic episodes. This is why it is essential not to have these supplements without consulting your doctor. Discuss the proper dosage with your doctor and also ask about whether S-adenosylmethionine may interact with the other bipolar medications you are taking.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort has been used for hundreds of years for its health benefits. It has been used in traditional European medicine since ancient times for treating a variety of conditions such as insomnia, depression, lung and kidney ailments, and to boost wound healing.(12)

St. John’s Wort is nowadays regularly used as a dietary supplement or alternative treatment for treating depression. People also use it for treating symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (13)

However, studies that have looked at the use of St. John’s Wort for depression have been mixed.(14) One of the major issues that seem to have come up is that the plant used was not the same among the studies, and the dosages were also different.

Lifestyle Changes

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is necessary for the treatment of not just bipolar disorder, but many other diseases as well. Even though lifestyle changes won’t treat bipolar disorder, but these healthy changes help enhance the overall treatment and also plays a role in stabilizing your mood. Some of these changes you should incorporate include:

Adequate sleep: Sufficient amount of sleep is required for stabilizing your mood and decrease irritability. Establishing a healthy bedtime routine, and creating a calming environment in the bedroom can help you sleep better.(15)

Exercising regularly: Exercise plays an essential role in stabilizing moods. It also helps alleviate depression and increases sleep.(16)

Having a healthy diet: Eating healthy is necessary for stabilizing your mood. It is a good idea to include a good amount of fish and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. At the same time, you should reduce your intake of trans and saturated fats as these are associated with imbalances in brain chemicals.(17)

Reduce your stress levels: Stress is a known trigger for a bipolar episode. Learning how to manage and reducing the daily stressors in your life can help prevent the worsening of your symptoms. You can also learn some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises and meditation, to help yourself remain calm in a stressful situation.

Remember that taking good care of yourself is key to managing your condition. Apart from your ongoing bipolar treatment, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a routine can go a long way in controlling your manic and depressive episodes. Nutrition, exercise, good sleep, and lowering your stress can all help you prevent your symptoms from worsening.

Conclusion

Research has shown that these alternative treatments can be helpful for people with bipolar disorder when used in combination with conventional bipolar treatments. However, there is not much research available to show whether these treatments alone can benefit a person with bipolar disorder. This is why you should not replace your ongoing treatment or medication with these alternative treatments. It is also very necessary to talk to your doctor before starting any type of alternative treatment. Keep in mind that certain supplements can lead to serious side effects and interactions with other medications.

References:

  1. Kelly, G.S., 1998. Clinical applications of N-acetylcysteine. Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic, 3(2), pp.114-127.
  2. Zafarullah, M., Li, W.Q., Sylvester, J. and Ahmad, M., 2003. Molecular mechanisms of N-acetylcysteine actions. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS, 60(1), pp.6-20.
  3. Psychiatric Times. 2020. Novel Approaches To Bipolar: What Worked, And What Did Not, In 2019. [online] Available at: <https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/novel-approaches-bipolar-what-worked-and-what-did-not-2019> [Accessed 28 July 2020].
  4. Sarris, J., Mischoulon, D. and Schweitzer, I., 2011. Adjunctive nutraceuticals with standard pharmacotherapies in bipolar disorder: a systematic review of clinical trials. Bipolar Disorders, 13(5‐6), pp.454-465.
  5. Kris-Etherton, P.M., Harris, W.S. and Appel, L.J., 2002. Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. Circulation, 106(21), pp.2747-2757.
  6. Dyerberg, J.H.E.S.J., Bang, H.O., Stoffersen, E., Moncada, S. and Vane, J.R., 1978. Eicosapentaenoic acid and prevention of thrombosis and atherosclerosis?. The Lancet, 312(8081), pp.117-119.
  7. Horrocks, L.A. and Yeo, Y.K., 1999. Health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Pharmacological research, 40(3), pp.211-225.
  8. Stoll, A.L., Severus, W.E., Freeman, M.P., Rueter, S., Zboyan, H.A., Diamond, E., Cress, K.K. and Marangell, L.B., 1999. Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Archives of general psychiatry, 56(5), pp.407-412.
  9. Su, K.P., Huang, S.Y., Chiu, C.C. and Shen, W.W., 2003. Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 13(4), pp.267-271.
  10. Lu, S.C., 2000. S-adenosylmethionine. The international journal of biochemistry & cell biology, 32(4), pp.391-395.
  11. Qureshi, N.A. and Al-Bedah, A.M., 2013. Mood disorders and complementary and alternative medicine: a literature review. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 9, p.639.
  12. Roby, C.A., Anderson, G.D., Kantor, E., Dryer, D.A. and Burstein, A.H., 2000. St John’s Wort: effect on CYP3A4 activity. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 67(5), pp.451-457.
  13. Linde, K., Mulrow, C.D., Berner, M.M. and Egger, M., 1998. St John’s wort for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4).
  14. Apaydin, E.A., Maher, A.R., Shanman, R., Booth, M.S., Miles, J.N., Sorbero, M.E. and Hempel, S., 2016. A systematic review of St. John’s wort for major depressive disorder. Systematic reviews, 5(1), p.148.
  15. Tsuno, N., Besset, A. and Ritchie, K., 2005. Sleep and depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
  16. North, T.C., McCULLAGH, P.E.N.N.Y. and TRAN, Z.V., 1990. Effect of exercise on depression. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 18(1), pp.379-416.
  17. Niva, M., 2007. ‘All foods affect health’: understandings of functional foods and healthy eating among health-oriented Finns. Appetite, 48(3), pp.384-393.

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