Individuals with bipolar disorder tend to also have a higher incidence of metabolic syndrome and other cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, a lack of physical activity and less than optimal eating habits are more likely with this disorder, which only further impact physical and mental health. Interestingly, preliminary studies of exercise have shown it can potentially lower the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress and should be added to any treatment regimen.
And even though conventional treatment can improve this condition dramatically, more than 50 percent of patients continue to have what are known as subthreshold symptoms, such as low-level depression.
A similar percentage have difficulty adhering to medications because of side effects, so you should explore adding anything with a high benefit-to-risk scenario.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.
Bipolar I Disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
Bipolar II Disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.
Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia)— defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
Home Remedies For Bipolar
Taking 1,000 milligrams of NAC twice daily may improve depression because glutathione (one of the main internally produced antioxidants) metabolism appears to be disrupted in multiple mental health disorders, and NAC is a precursor of glutathione. In a 6- month, multisite Australian study, 75 participants reported significantly improved depression when using NAC along with conventional treatment (called add on NAC). It didn’t impact cognition in bipolar disorder, but the reduction in depression was significant enough to warrant a discussion with your physician.
A small pilot trial in Brazil of 1,000 milligrams of NAC twice a day over 24 weeks (in bipolar II disorder patients) found a significant reduction in depression. These research groups (the Australian and Brazilian) are also seeing some improvement in mania symptoms at these same NAC dosages. This is still preliminary, but since treatment for bipolar disorder is resistant to many medications, NAC could be helpful for some people.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Researchers are evaluating a reduction in depression in children and adults with bipolar disorder with approximately 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources. It may help by reducing the overactivity of cellular signals transmitted in the brain.
Chromium picolinate (500 to 1,000 micrograms per day). This supplement appears to improve the metabolism of glucose and fat, which could enhance neuro transmitter production, and preliminary research suggests it may improve depression. Some studies with this supplement have shown large dropout rates, though, which is concerning.
Folic acid. Folate depletion also appears to occur in the severe depression phase of some bipolar disorders, and it’s worth supplementing (500 micrograms of folic acid or more) to reduce depression.
This vitamin-like substance is present in all body tissues, with the highest concentrations being in the brain and heart. Supplementation may modulate serotonin activity, and it’s also being tested for depression in bipolar disorder. The only issue I have with this supplement is large doses—as high as 12 grams—have been used in some successful preliminary studies, which can be hard to take.
Taking 300 to 400 milligrams per day may improve the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin, a calming neurotransmitter, and 5- HTP supplementation may do the same, but dosages must be worked out on an individual basis.
Supplementation modulates high-energy phosphate metabolism and is also being studied to improve mania in bipolar disorder, but preliminary clinical data hasn’t shown any benefit. Since it’s receiving more large-scale research and derivatives of it are showing potential promise, I think this supplement is worth discussing with your doctor.
A ketogenic diet (high in fat) may help some patients by altering cellular signaling in a beneficial way (it may restore or reboot more healthy brainwave activity). Doctors use these diets to treat seizures in kids and adults who don’t respond to medications or cannot tolerate antiepileptic drugs. And since some antiepileptic drugs have been used to treat bipolar disorder, it’s worth discussing with a specialist. There are some small studies of ketogenic dieting in bipolar II disorder under way, and I’m keeping an eye on them.