Natural Options For Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Updated February 23, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Avia James
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as "manic depression," is a mental health condition that includes extreme mood swings of emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). Affecting as many as 60 million people worldwide, over half of all bipolar patients begin seeing symptoms between the ages of 15 and 25, but it can begin at any age. While there is no complete cure, there are several different treatment options that can help to manage its symptoms. Recognizing the symptoms of Bipolar Depression is important, and reporting them to your provider can help them give you the best treatment method(s) that will work for you.
Some common symptoms of bipolar disorder include mood swings, impaired sleep, and feelings of worthless or guilt, to name a few. Because signs and symptoms can vary greatly between individuals, it is important to report and discuss any unusual symptoms that concern you with your physician or therapist.
Signs And Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder
Two primary types of bipolar symptoms include manic symptoms and depressive symptoms. Other symptoms vary on the spectrum that runs between the two. Symptoms produce very different types of behaviors and can be manifested consecutively.
Manic symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
- Euphoria. A manic episode will present symptoms of euphoria or a heightened level of happiness and a sense of accomplishment. People who are in a state of euphoria, often feel "unstoppable" in the pursuit of goals, even though they often get distracted from them. They may feel very outgoing and unusually happy regardless of whether or not the social situation they are in warrants it. Conversely, the euphoria can suddenly give way to extreme irritability.
- Rapid Speech. A good indication of a manic episode is rapid speech. Patients will begin to speak fast for long periods of time without reaching a logical conclusion. They often jump from one subject to another, making little sense to those around them. This is part of a general burst of energy which patients experience during a manic episode.
- Racing Thoughts. Racing thoughts are a common manic bipolar symptom. Individuals often have a difficult time focusing on one thing and tend to over-analyze. They randomly jump from one topic to another, increasing their distractibility. This often gets in the way of achieving goals. During milder manic episodes known as "hypomania," patients can maintain better productivity.
- Increased Physical Activity. During a manic episode, they often have extremely high levels of energy. To maintain a steadier mood, a regular exercise regimen may be helpful.
- Careless Use Of Drugs Or Alcohol. Sometimes turning to drugs and alcohol may be a sign of deeper issues. This can further destabilize mood, making symptoms worse in the long run. Drugs and alcohol can also increase the anxiety that often accompanies the hypomanic "bridge phase." Generally, treating bipolar is more successful when combined with a complete abstinence from alcohol and illicit drugs.
- Decreased Need For Sleep. Along with large bursts of energy and euphoria, there is a lessened need of sleep and signs of fatigue and exhaustion. This symptom is often mischaracterized as insomnia because its manifestation is often persistent. Those with manic bipolar don't feel as tired as they normally would, and they choose to stay up using their energy rather than trying to fall asleep.
Some depressive symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
- Fatigue. Contrary to manic symptoms, a depressive episode often presents extreme tiredness and fatigue. Wanting to go to or stay in bed, along with overall reduced motivation. Feeling bogged down or sluggish despite getting plenty of sleep is one of the most prominent signs of depressive episodes.
- Chronic Pain With No Known Cause. Chronic pain with no known cause can present itself throughout many parts of the body including severe headaches, muscle aches and many more. Without knowing the real cause of it, there seems to be no solution, though often antidepressants offer the most effective relief.
- Sadness Or Hopelessness. A depressive episode is most commonly shown by an overwhelming feeling of sadness and hopelessness. People who experience a depressive episode, become sluggish and don't see a point in pursuing goals. They have little to no interest in, what is typically, their favorite activities, and have no desire to engage in ordinary activities of daily functioning.
- Suicidal Thoughts. During extreme periods of sadness and depression, they may develop suicidal thoughts and act in suicidal manners. Because of the compulsive nature of bipolar, this can be very dangerous, as they put them at a higher risk of following through with any ideation or plan.
- Withdrawal From Friends And Family. During a depressive episode, individuals with bipolar disorder may withdraw from those who are closest to them-including friends, family, and spouses. This may be unconscious but can still be devastating to relationships. Some things like not returning calls or staying away from family events tend to be common during these periods.
Mood or behavior symptoms that show both manic and depressive signs of bipolar disorder:
- Mood Swings. Mood swings are the most common symptom of bipolar disorder and are a combination of the manic and depressive symptoms. These include high levels of positivity followed by high levels of negativity and depression or vice versa. These periods may be brief or long, up to a few months at a time. There may be a "hypomania" type of bridge phase in the middle where things are rather more leveled out.
- Irritation. Irritation and agitation are common in both manic and depressive episodes. Irritability and mood instabilities are typical to both manic and depressive episodes. The switch from a positive to a negative mood can be rather quick and without a clear reason.
- Missed Work. A common symptom of bipolar disorder is the inability to maintain a schedule causing them to miss work or other commitments. Other interferences to daily functioning include being distracted by other tasks (not necessarily of high importance) in a manic period and feeling lethargic and subsequently unmotivated to get going, in a depressive period.
- Changes In Appetite. Changes in appetite can occur in both manic and depressive episodes. Both episodes can trigger either loss of or increase in appetite, which ultimately results in significant weight changes and even an eating disorder of some sort.
Numerous Different Potential Causes Of Bipolar Disorder
The true cause of Bipolar Disorder is difficult to determine, despite all the medical research that has been done and some links that have been made to genetic sources and enzyme deficiencies. One such study suggested a link to a reduced activity of the COMT enzyme that breaks down Norepinephrine, but this link has not been clearly supported. It is now known, however, that specific doses of nutrients like Vitamin B6, Zinc and Manganese can help maintain a steady mood.
Additionally, it's been suggested that some natural supplements can serve as antidepressants, and may include Choline, Folic acid, B vitamins, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Zinc and amino acids.
Potential Natural Treatments For Bipolar Disorder
One research publication suggested to use essential fatty acids (EFAs) to support management of symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Using this finding in treatment of bipolar symptoms has been proven successful, and decreased the need of prescription drugs. And while some have suggested to make it an official treatment for bipolar disorder, it has yet to be officially supported by research. Nonetheless, it has provided some natural relief for both manic and depressive symptoms.
Some of the following are potential natural supplements that can work toward relief of Bipolar Disorder symptoms:
- Fish oil and Omega-3 fatty acids - This is a common source of two essential fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). There have been several studies on the benefits of these acids in affecting the brain in the management of mood. A potential indication of this suggestion may have come from the recognition that Bipolar Disorder is less common in countries where people consume more fish and fish oil, along with the lower blood levels of omega-3 found in Bipolar patients. Some people may experience some side effects when taking these supplements, therefore being attentive to the body's response upon intake is imperative.
- Rhodiola Rosea. This has been seen to assist in the treatment of lighter levels of depression; though there are possible side effects of this including a stimulant that may cause some insomnia or digestive problems, it may be more likely to help with stress and depression if those are more common.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) - This is another supplement that can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. While this amino acid has been shown to fight severe depression, a too high dosage may cause manic episodes in those with Bipolar. Therefore, it is always advised to consult with your provider before taking those supplements.
- St. John's Wort - This is a European herb that's been used for mood enhancement. In treating Bipolar Disorder, however, some studies have suggested that St. John's Wort may lead to psychosis or other induce other adverse symptoms/interactions when combined with other meds.
- Meditation - This calming and relaxing method can help achieve your strong cognition and control your mood and thoughts, especially in the reduction of depression during those periods.
- Light Therapy - As was previously mentioned, Bipolar Disorder may include interruption in circadian rhythms. Light therapy has been shown to produce some positive outcomes in people with impaired sleep. Nonetheless, discuss this treatment with your doctor before applying it to yourself.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine - Some herbal supplementation or diet changes can be incorporated in daily routines to help improve physical and mental health. Speak with your doctor before making any dietary changes.
- Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy - This involves following a daily schedule and following agreed upon routines. This can help maintain natural function more easily.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) - This is a professionally guided treatment method that uses eye movements to control and modify responses to thoughts and feelings. This method can help improve symptoms and manage responses.
Always check with your doctor before starting any alternative treatments. Supplements and therapies may interact with your medication and cause unintended side effects. Alternative treatments shouldn't replace traditional treatments or medications. Some people have reported feeling increased benefits when combining the two together.
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