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Alternative Vitamins to Bipolar Medicine

| By Bethany Fong, R.D.
Alternative Vitamins to Bipolar Medicine
Vitamins like omega-3s from fish oil may help treat bipolar disorder. Photo Credit Fish oil vitamins image by Stephen VanHorn from Fotolia.com

Overview

Bipolar, or manic depressive, disorder is a psychological disorder that causes severe moods swings represented by alternating periods of depression and euphoria. Traditional treatment involves medication, psychotherapy and education/support groups. According to researchers at the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation who published an article in 2008 in “Nutrition Journal,” certain nutrients may also have treatment implications for bipolar disorder, but more research is needed to determine effectiveness and dosing recommendations.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Bipolar disorder appears to be less common in areas where people have diets high in omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Pendulum, a non-profit resource for bipolar disorder, says that research suggests that bipolar symptoms could decrease by as much as 25 percent with fish oil supplements. According to the “Nutrition Journal” article, the brain uses omega-3s to transmit signals related to thinking, mood and emotion, and omega-3 is often deficient in people with mental disorders. A 2007 article by researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in the “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry” points out that the two types of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both appear to have beneficial effects in bipolar disorder, and EPA may be of particular importance to psychiatric patients.

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B Vitamins

The “Nutrition Journal” article noted that up to 80 percent of people with bipolar disorder have B vitamin deficiencies. B vitamin deficiencies of thiamin, riboflavin, B6 and B12 have been associated with an increased risk of depression, and Pendulum preliminary research shows improvement in depressed individuals who take B vitamin complex supplements. English researchers who published an article in 2005 in the “Journal of Psychopharmacology” also recommended a B12 supplement daily “to improve treatment outcome in depression.”

Folate

The “Journal of Psychopharmacology” study also linked low levels of folate to depression and recommended 800 mg of oral folic acid daily to improve depression outcomes. Folate naturally occurs in dark green leafy vegetables, oranges and other fruits.

Vitamin C

According to the “Nutrition Journal” article and Pendulum, bipolar disorder produces high levels of vanadium, a trace mineral that can lead to manic and depressive episodes. Vitamin C protects the body by clearing vanadium, and preliminary research suggests that it may be useful in treating bipolar disorder. The Yale-New Haven Health Complementary Medicine recommends that while research is underway, bipolar individuals may consider taking a vitamin C supplement and avoiding supplements that contain vanadium.

Additional Vitamins

Other vitamins and nutrients that are currently being researched for possible roles in alleviating symptoms of bipolar disorder include amino acids like S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), L-tryptophan, taurine and lecithin. Pendulum recommends consulting a psychiatrist when using supplements, and points out that the effectiveness of many vitamins and minerals to treat bipolar disorder is based on “anecdotal information.”

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References

  • “Journal of Clinical Psychiatry”; Omega-3 fatty acids evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry; M.P. Freeman, et al.; December 2006.
  • “Journal of Psychopharmacology”; Treatment of depression: time to consider folic acid and vitamin B12; A. Coppen, C. Bolander-Gouaille; January 2005
  • “Nutrition Journal”; Nutritional therapies for mental disorders; S.E. Lakhan, K.F. Vieira; January 2008
  • Pendulum.org: Bipolar disorder treatments

Comments

author image Bethany Fong, R.D.
Bethany Fong is a registered dietitian and chef from Honolulu. She has produced a variety of health education materials and worked in wellness industries such as clinical dietetics, food service management and public health.
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