Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on August 8, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on August 8, 2014

Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments aim to ease the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Such treatments can lower stress that may trigger manic or depressive episodes. There is some doubt as to whether these treatments really work, and there is little research evidence when compared to traditional treatments. But many people with bipolar disorder claim to have had some success with alternative therapies.

Always check with your doctor before using any alternative treatments.

Lifestyle Changes

There are some behaviors that may trigger bipolar episodes. Here are some lifestyle changes that doctors and psychologists suggest to help avoid triggers.

Exercise Regularly

Physical exercise can help steady mood and ease depression. Exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which cause euphoric feelings and can help you sleep better. Exercise is also good for your heart and can help you maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important for people with bipolar disorder, as they have a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Adequate sleep can help stabilize your mood and reduce irritability. If you have trouble sleeping, cut back on caffeine and schedule your exercise for the morning hours. If this doesn’t work, talk to your doctor — they may have other strategies for you, or may want to look at your current medication regimen.

Avoid Unhealthy Relationships

You may have some relationships that encourage unhealthy behaviors that can trigger depression or mania. These relationships can worsen your bipolar disorder. Try to surround yourself with people who are positive influences.

Avoid Alcohol and Illegal Substances

Abuse of alcohol and other substances is common in people with bipolar disorder, but this increases the risk of depression or risk-taking behavior. If you are not able to quit on your own, seek help from a professional.

Eat Healthy Foods

Consuming fatty fish may help reduce depression and improve brain function. It may also help have a positive affect on the moods of those with bipolar disorder. Fatty fish is also good for the heart. The American Heart Association recommends fish like albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines. Try to have at least two servings a week. Reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats which have been linked to brain chemical imbalances. Your doctor might recommend stopping caffeine, which can alter mood and disrupt sleep.

Herbs and Supplements

Clinical trials have yet to prove that any currently available over-the-counter supplements are effective for treating bipolar disorder. But there is some preliminary evidence that they may help stabilize mood and relieve depression. Remember, the FDA does not monitor the safety of herbs or supplements. Never use them without consulting with your doctor.

Fish Oil

Bipolar disorder appears to be less common in parts of the world where people regularly consume fish and fish oil. It is thought that fish oil may help improve brain function and depression. However, the studies on fish oil do not account for other environmental factors that may affect the rate of bipolar disease in a community. In other words, studies have only shown correlation and not causation.

Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found in small studies to reduce irritability and aggression. It is shown to maintain mood stability better than placebo in people with bipolar disorder. Beneficial doses range from 1 to 9 grams. Studies have found that fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce depression symptoms. But more studies are needed to determine just how much they can help people with bipolar disorder.

Consuming even 1 gram of fish oil per day is nearly impossible in the modern American diet. Supplements are required to consistently reach this level of intake.

Amino Acids

Studies have shown that some amino acid neurotransmitters play a role in mood regulation. Many antidepressant medications work in conjunction with the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Supplements are thought to boost the production of these chemicals. Some amino acid supplements used for bipolar symptoms are:

  • taurine
  • tyrosine
  • phenylalanine
  • S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM-e)
  • Certain dosages of these supplements can cause serious side effects. There are even some claims that some of these supplements can trigger manic episodes. Talk with your doctor about proper dosages, and about how these supplements might interact with other medications you take.

    St. John’s Wort

    Some studies suggest this herb is helpful in treating symptoms of depression. However, there are documented cases of sudden onset of mania in bipolar patients who took St. John’s wort. Discuss the use of St. John’s wort with your doctor.

Mind-Body Techniques

The relaxing effects of some mind-body techniques can reduce stress that can trigger manic or depressive episodes.

Yoga

Yoga involves stretching and balancing the body in specific stances called “poses.” These poses are performed along with controlled breathing and meditation. The combination can leave people feeling both calm and invigorated.

Yoga can be learned at home from books or online videos. But attending regular classes can give you a fuller and potentially more rewarding experience. You can learn from personalized instruction from the teacher and others in the class. There are many different types of yoga. Try to find the yoga style that works best for you.

Meditation

Meditation uses the mind to calm the body. It can be very effective in coping with the stress of daily life. Meditation can help you learn to control your reaction to the world around you. 

Meditation cannot cure bipolar disorder, but it can help you remain calm. Bipolar disorder can be complicated by stress. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can be a valuable part of your overall treatment plan.

Massage

Massage therapy is another alternative means for managing bipolar disorder. As with yoga and meditation, massage helps reduce anxiety and stress.

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