Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects approximately 2.5 million people in the United States and Canada. (18)(24) It is characterized by fluctuations of low mood and high mood. Times of low mood often last weeks to months, while high moods typically last several days to weeks. (24)
Keep reading to learn more about natural supplements for bipolar disorder, its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Types of bipolar disorder
There are four main types of bipolar disorder. (22)
1. Bipolar disorder type 1
Bipolar disorder type 1 involves episodes of mania, in which mood becomes so elevated that a person can experience psychosis, hospitalization, and impaired ability to function socially and occupationally. Mania typically lasts for at least one week, and hypomania can last for several weeks prior to escalating into mania. (19)
2. Bipolar disorder type 2
In cases of bipolar disorder type 2, high moods don’t quite reach the mania state and are called hypomanic episodes. A hypomanic state can last from days to months; however, a minimum of four days in a row in an escalated state is the criteria for a hypomanic episode. (19)
Cyclothymia is a type of bipolar disorder in which moods fluctuate between highs and lows, but the swings in mood are not as severe as in bipolar disorder type 1 or 2. The lows are often considered subthreshold depression and the highs are hypomania episodes. (8)(22)
4. Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified
The last type is bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BD-NOS), which is a type of bipolar disorder that does not meet the criteria of the other types. An indiviudal may be diagnosed with BD-NOS if they display some symptoms of bipolar disorder, but not others. (26)
Causes of bipolar disorder
The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. (9)(22) However, many practitioners will tell you that the cause of bipolar disorder is largely genetic. (9) While genetics can predispose an individual to a mental illness, lifestyle and environmental influences can have an epigenetic effect as well. (1)
Lifestyle aspects that can affect bipolar include:
- Alcohol and substance abuse
- Disrupted sleeping patterns
- Highly stressful situations (e.g., death of a loved one, abusive situations, physical illness)
- Trauma (e.g., abuse, adoption) (1)
Symptoms and signs of bipolar disorder
Low moods present very similar to major depressive disorder. Signs and symptoms include:
- Changes in appetite
- Fatigue or low energy
- Feelings of sadness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Lack of pleasure or interest in activities that used to bring joy
- Reductions in ability to think or concentrate
- Reoccurring thoughts of death, a suicide plan, or suicidal ideation (20)
Manic or hypomanic episodes present with signs, such as:
- Disruption to daily functioning, particularly in maniac episodes
- Increase in pleasurable activities
- Increased self-esteem
- Lack of appetite
- Racing thoughts
- Reduced need for sleep
- Talkativeness (20)
What is the treatment for bipolar disorder?
The treatment of bipolar disorder focuses on stabilizing a person’s mood. The best treatment for bipolar disorder is to approach it from many different angles. Treatment needs to include addressing sleep, stress, diet, and exercise. In order to heal from bipolar disorder, individuals must also take a deep look into their thoughts, emotions, behaviors, reactions, the role of the environment, past trauma, spirituality, and love and compassion for themselves.
One of the first steps in managing bipolar disorder is understanding that there is a need to use food and nutraceuticals to provide the brain with the ability to make the neurochemicals it needs to support cells and prevent damage. In some cases, bipolar disorder treatment options may also include the use of mood-stabilizing medications. (20)
Learning how to manage bipolar disorder is hard work; it takes diligence and a commitment to your health.
Top 5 natural supplements for bipolar disorder
Research demonstrates that the supplements outlined below may benefit individuals with bipolar disorder.
1. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are an important part of treatment in many different mental illnesses. Omega-3s help repair cells and reduce inflammation in the body and brain which may be beneficial in bipolar disorder. (4)(23)(25) In bipolar disorder, omega 3s provide the most benefit during depressive episodes. A systematic review looking at omega-3 use in bipolar disorder showed that omega 3s reduced the severity of depressive episodes. However, omega 3s did not have an effect on symptoms during the manic episodes. (23)
There are two types of long-chain omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For mental health, a higher ratio of EPA:DHA is more beneficial than a lower ratio. (23) The best outcomes appear when supplementation is taken for approximately three months, with other mood stabilizing medications, and when the ratio of EPA:DHA is either 2:1 or 3:1. (4)(23)
Magnesium comes in various forms and is important in supporting mental health. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood and happiness, is made from an essential amino acid called tryptophan. In order for our bodies to convert tryptophan to serotonin, there needs to be adequate magnesium. (25) One study found that many people with mental illness are magnesium deficient. (10)
Several studies have examined the use of magnesium in bipolar disorder, particularly studied in manic episodes. In one study in which participants took 40 mg of magnesium aspartate hydrochloride per day, there was a significant decrease in symptoms of mania. (11)
Magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate also have a significant impact on manic episodes when used in conjunction with prescription medications. (14)(15) There are many different forms of magnesium with slightly different actions; choosing one that makes the most sense for you and your health concerns can be tricky and requires the advice of a licensed practitioner.
As mentioned, serotonin comes from the essential amino acid tryptophan which is found in certain food sources such as turkey, tuna, salmon, cashews, halibut, shrimp, oatmeal flakes, pork, avocado, cottage cheese, wheat germ, eggs, collards, spinach, raisins, yogurt, chicken, and sweet potato. (27) Consuming a tryptophan-rich diet can reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder, particularly mania. Two different studies have also shown that supplementing with tryptophan can help reduce symptoms of mania. (2)(12) There are some interactions and side effects associated with tryptophan supplementation, so its best to talk with a healthcare provider before starting treatment.
There is a strong link between gut health and cognitive health—a connection known as the gut-brain axis. (3) One of the best ways to ensure that this axis is healthy and strong is by ensuring that the gut has an adequate balance of beneficial bacteria.
A study of people who had recently been hospitalized with mania found that taking a probiotic containing Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12 everyday reduced the risk of rehospitalization by 74%. (13) If a person was rehospitalized, their stay was five days shorter than the average person with bipolar disorder. (13)
5. N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is an amino acid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. NAC may be effective in treating bipolar disorder. When participants with bipolar disorder in one study were given 1 g of NAC twice per day, there was a significant improvement in depression scores. (6) However, there does not seem to be an effect on mania symptoms. (6)(17) While more research is needed in this area, NAC seems to work best when used for longer periods of time and in conjunction with other nutraceuticals, such as L-acetylcarnitine, coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, and magnesium. (4)(7)
The bottom line
Recovering from mental illness, and in particular bipolar disorder, is possible with a committed approach to one’s health. The most effective treatments are ones that address physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. The key is to start building the foundational physical pillars of health by emphasizing diet, sleep, exercise, and stress management to help ensure hormone and neurotransmitter balance.
Before making any changes to your wellness plan, be sure to speak with your healthcare practitioner.
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