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Bipolar Disorder Introduction

Scott Olson, ND

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression) is a mood disorder that causes drastic changes in mood from high manic phases to depressive low phases. The manic phase is characterized by feelings of elated mood and exaggerated self-importance, talkativeness, little need for sleep, increased sociability, racing thoughts, risky or inappropriate behavior, and increased sexual appetite. This period of mania is often followed by a period of depression, with the symptoms mentioned previously (loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyable activities; major changes in appetite; sleep problems; fatigue, a feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness; problems with concentration and making decisions; and thoughts of suicide). The change from the manic phase to the depressive phase is called “cycling”. Some people with Bipolar Disorder cycle quickly, while others cycle more slowly. The cycling can be "deep" with very severe manic and very severe depressive phases, or the cycling can be less severe with mild depression and manic phases.

The term “Bipolar Disorder” actually describes four different disorders which range in phase severity and how quickly someone's mood cycles between phases.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Bipolar Disorder

There are no CAM therapies that can take the place of conventional medical therapies for the treatment of bipolar disorder based on current research understandings. Many of the supplements that have been studied for the treatment of bipolar disorder were selected on the basis of how well they treat unipolar or general depression. This is unfortunate, because depression and bipolar disorder are very different diseases which typically require separate interventions.

Even though there are no stand-alone CAM remedies for bipolar disorder, some preliminary studies suggest that many of the supplements suggested below will provide some benefit as adjunctive (complementary) treatments. The most convincing evidence suggests that Omega-3 fatty acids are helpful, but again, this supplement is not recommended as a solo treatment.

The following chart summarizes the common natural treatments for bipolar disorder and the degree of scientific study to support their use:

Natural Therapies for Bipolar Disorder

A

These complimentary medicines have been well-studied for both effectiveness and safety issues and can be recommended on the basis of their scientific and traditional-use background.

· None

B

These complimentary medicines have at least some clinical studies in humans to support their use along with a long history of traditional use. They can be recommended for use on the basis of their traditional use and their relative safety.

· Omega-3 Fatty Acids

C

These complimentary medicines lack the support of good clinical studies in humans, but have been used traditionally, or have some studies that suggest that they might be effective. They can be recommended for use with the caution that they are not well-supported by research.

· Serotonin precursors

· B-complex vitamins

· Exercise

F

These are complimentary medicines that cannot be recommended for use because are harmful, not effective, or are too new to make a judgment about their safety or effectiveness.

· Vanadium

(A) Well Supported Integrative Therapies for Bipolar Disorder