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Other Therapies for Bipolar Disorder -B-Complex Vitamins

Scott Olson, ND

Even though large research studies supporting the use of B-vitamins for treating bipolar disorder are lacking, clinical evidence suggests that these vitamins are potentially beneficial. The B-vitamins are water-soluble (dissolvable in water) and are easily removed from the body in urine. They are generally considered safe, with little to no side-effects.

People with bipolar disorder who are taking lithium (a common standard treatment for this disorder) or are experiencing a manic episode often have low levels of Folic Acid. Supplementing with this vitamin seems to enhance the effects of lithium. Typical dosages are between 400-600 mcg a day for an adult. Folic acid has very few side effects other than occasional nausea and diarrhea.

Like folic acid, low levels of Vitamin B12 may also be (in part) responsible for triggering manic states. As mentioned previously, vitamin B12 also plays a role in the creation of many of the mood-regulating brain chemicals (GABA, Serotonin, Dopamine, and others). No research studies have been conducted on treating bipolar disorder with vitamin B12, but the rationale behind supplementing with this vitamin appears theoretically sound.

Choline, sometimes considered one of the B-complex vitamins, has shown some promise in small trials with people who have rapid cycling bipolar disorder. The amount of choline used in these trials was based on weight (50 mg of choline per kg per day). There are very few side-effects reported with choline use, other than occasional nausea and diarrhea. Some people who take very large doses of choline also report a fishy odor on their skin and breath.

Inositol is another compound that is sometimes classified as a B-vitamin which seems to be low in people with bipolar disorder. Normal dosages range from 10-12 grams a day. There is one report of inositol inducing a manic state, but no other studies show this effect. Inositol has almost no side effects other than stomach upset. This compound may inhibit the absorption of other drugs, vitamins, or minerals, so consult with a health care provider before taking this supplement. As with vitamin B12, clinical trials examining the use of inositol for treating bipolar disorder have not been conducted, but the rationale for its use is sound.

Exercise

Exercising as little as three hours a week can have a profound effect on the symptoms of depression, but is largely untested as a therapy for people with bipolar disorder. Researchers are puzzled about the exact reason for the benefits of exercise on depression, but studies conducted with animals suggest that exercise increases the mood-regulating neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Exercise also releases endorphins, chemicals naturally produced in the body which reduce the experience of pain and enhance a sense of well-being.

Additional research is necessary to determine whether exercise can benefit individuals with bipolar disorder. In addition, there are many unknowns about the type and frequency of exercise that might be beneficial. Lithium, a common medication taken by people with bipolar disorder, is excreted in sweat. In one study, heavy sweating led to decreased lithium levels in the blood. Particularly if you take lithium, consult with your qualified health practitioner before starting any exercise program.

Vanadium

WARNING: Vanadium is thought to be a possible cause of bipolar disorder mood cycling and should be avoided as a supplement.