Some people with bipolar disorder have reported that using alternative treatments provides relief from symptoms. Scientific evidence supports many of the benefits in treating depression. But the effectiveness in treating bipolar disorder requires more research.
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.
Fish oil and fish are common sources of two of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids:
- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
These fatty acids may affect the chemicals in your brain associated with mood disorders.
Bipolar disorder seems to be less common in countries where people consume fish and fish oil. People with depression also tend to have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood. Omega-3 fatty acids may help:
- reduce irritability and aggression
- maintain mood stability
- reduce depression symptoms
- improve brain function
You can take fish oil supplements to help reach this daily amount. However, fish oil supplements may have side effects that include:
- stomach pain
Rhodiola rosea (arctic root or golden root) may help treat mild to moderate depression. R. rosea is a mild stimulant and may cause insomnia. Other side effects include vivid dreaming and nausea.
Ask your doctor before taking R. rosea, especially if you have a history of breast cancer. This herb binds with estrogen receptors and may increase your risk of breast cancer.
Results of a review of studies indicate that the supplement form of a substance that naturally occurs in the body, S-adenosylmethionine, may be beneficial for depression. This amino acid supplement may also be effective for bipolar disorder.
Some dosages of these supplements can cause serious side effects like triggering manic episodes. Talk with your doctor about proper dosages, and ask about how S-adenosylmethionine might interact with other medications you take.
This antioxidant helps reduce oxidative stress. Additionally, a review of the literature reported that in one randomized controlled trial of people with bipolar disorder, adding 2 grams of N-acetylcysteine per day to traditional bipolar medication treatment led to significant improvement in depression, mania, and quality of life.
This water-soluble vitamin may be effective for symptoms of mania in people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Results of one study of six people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder who received 2,000 to 7,200 milligrams of choline per day (in addition to treatment with lithium) indicated improved manic symptoms.
Inositol is a synthetic vitamin that may help with depression. In one study, 66 people with bipolar disorder who were experiencing a major depressive episode that was resistant to a combination of mood stabilizers and one or more antidepressants, were also given inositol or another additional therapy for up to 16 weeks. Results of that study indicated that 17.4 percent of people who received inositol as additional therapy recovered from their depressive episode and had no mood episode symptoms for eight weeks.
St. John’s wort
Results of studies that evaluated the use of St. John’s wort for depression are mixed. One problem seems to be that the forms of St. John’s wort used have not been the same among studies. The dosages have also been different.
Stress complicates bipolar disorder. Several alternative treatments aim to reduce anxiety and stress. These treatments include:
- massage therapy
Calming techniques can’t cure bipolar disorder. But they may help you manage your symptoms and be a valuable part of your treatment plan.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT)
Erratic patterns and sleep deprivation may worsen symptoms of bipolar. IPSRT is a type of psychotherapy. It aims to help people with bipolar disorder to:
- maintain a regular routine
- adopt good sleep habits
- learn how to solve problems that interrupt their routine
IPSRT in addition to your prescribed bipolar medications may help to reduce the number of manic and depressive episodes you have.
Although lifestyle changes won’t treat bipolar disorder, certain changes may enhance your treatment and help to stabilize your mood. These changes include:
- regular exercise
- adequate sleep
- healthy foods
Exercise can also help stabilize moods. It can also help ease depression and increase sleep.
Adequate sleep can help stabilize your mood and reduce irritability. Tips to improve sleep include establishing a routine and creating a calm bedroom environment.
Including fish and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is good. However, consider reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats, which are linked to brain chemical imbalances.
Research indicates that alternative treatments may be helpful for bipolar disorder when they are used with traditional treatments. However, very little research about these treatments has been done. Alternative treatments shouldn’t replace your current treatment or medication for bipolar disorder.
Always talk to your doctor before starting an alternative treatment. Certain supplements may cause side effects with any medications you may be taking or may affect other conditions that you have.