Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and is characterized by unusual swings in mood and energy level. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.7 million Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. That's about 2.6 percent of the population of adults over 18 years old. There is no cure, but for those affected, typical treatment options often include the use of mood-stabilizing medications such as lithium, as well as antidepressants and psychotherapy.
Many people with bipolar disorder also choose to examine natural treatment options. These treatments, like diet and exercise, are focused on heading off both manic and depressive symptoms by reducing stress in a patient's life in hopes of lowering the likelihood of triggering a bipolar episode.
For the most part, these alternative treatments have been studied less by medical professionals than have traditional medical treatments. However, many bipolar patients have had success pursuing them.
Food Remedies to Treat Bipolar Disorder
Watch what you eat. We've all heard that a proper diet is important to our overall health and can help reduce our chances of getting a number of diseases, from heart disease and high blood pressure to diabetes. Proper diet can also help manage bipolar disorder. Doctors suggest avoiding diets that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and simple carbohydrates and instead seeking out foods that are nutrient dense, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.
Doctors also recommend avoiding caffeine, which can alter mood and disrupt sleeping patterns.
There are some foods, like fatty fishes, that may improve bipolar disorder. Some medical experts suggest eating salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, and albacore tuna at least twice a week.
If you don't like eating fish, taking fish oil supplements can be a good alternative. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are thought to reduce irritability and lessen mood swings in people with bipolar disorder. Omega-3s can also be found in flaxseed oil.
To treat symptoms of depression, some suggest using the supplement 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is thought to be a precursor to the creation of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain linked to calm moods and improved sleep.
There is some indication that herbal supplements, like ginseng and St. John's wort, are effective in relieving depression. Some studies have shown, however, that St. John's wort may be linked to triggering manic episodes in bipolar patients.
Exercise to Treat Bipolar Disorder
Exercise. Whether or not you have bipolar disorder, studies show that exercise can improve mood. Moderate and regular exercise releases chemicals called endorphins that cause feelings of euphoria and help regularize sleep patterns. Also, studies of bipolar disorder have linked it to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Exercise promotes heart health and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Sleep Better to Treat Bipolar Disorder
Sleep for your health. Getting enough sleep is an overall necessity for good health. However, getting enough sleep can be difficult for those with bipolar disorder. Patients can go through manic periods when they don't get enough sleep, or depressive periods when they sleep too much.
Getting on a regular sleep schedule can help stabilize your mood. Establish a routine with a regular time for going to sleep and waking up. Make sure your bedroom is as comfortable as possible, and limit other activities that aren't sleep related. For example, if you're used to using your bedroom as a home office, you may consider moving your desk and computer. You don't want to be worried about work while trying to get a good night's rest.
Meditation and Yoga to Treat Bipolar Disorder
Beating stress. Anxiety and stress can be triggers for bipolar episodes. Patients may want to try the following exercises to beat stress:
Deep breathing. Sit quietly, breathing slowly through your nose. On your inhale, fill your lungs deeply with air. Hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly exhale through your mouth. Repeat.
Meditation. An ancient practice, meditation relaxes your mind and body by allowing you to focus on one thing, such as your breathing, an object, or a sound. The idea is to clear your mind of distracting thoughts that are potentially causing stress. Meditation can be done solo or in groups.
Yoga. Not only does yoga contribute to overall physical fitness, but the stretching and balancing techniques, coupled with a focus on breathing and meditation, can leave you feeling calmer and energized.
Herbal Remedies to Treat Bipolar Disorder
Herbal remedies. Some bipolar patients have found success treating their illness using over-the-counter supplements. Though many of these treatments have not been proven in clinical trials, some people have found them effective in stabilizing mood or relieving symptoms of depression.
Check with you doctor. As with any new diet, exercise, or alternative regimen, it's important to check with a doctor to make sure that your methods are safe for you or your loved one.