Some people with bipolar disorder report 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. But you may feel increased benefits when combining the two together.
Research suggests that some herbs and supplements may help stabilize mood and relieve depression. Consult a doctor before trying any supplements or herbs for your disorder.
Always buy supplements from a reputable source. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t check the quality of herbs or supplements.
Bipolar disorder seems to be less common in countries where people consume fish and fish oil. According to research, consumption of seafood is associated with lower incidence of bipolar I and bipolar II disorder. People with depression also tend to have lower omega-3 in their blood.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also referred to as DHA and EPA. These fatty acids may affect the chemicals in your brain associated with mood disorders.
A treatment of omega-3 fatty acids may help:
- reduce irritability and aggression
- maintain mood stability
- reduce depression symptoms
- improve brain function
Beneficial doses range from one to 9 grams. But consuming 1 gram of fish oil per day requires supplements to help reach this daily amount.
Children may take omega-3, but fish oil 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 for breast cancer.
Research shows that SAMe is an effective treatment for depression. This amino acid supplement may also be effective for bipolar disorder. Many antidepressant medications work to boost the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help balance your mood.
Some dosages of these supplements can cause serious side effects like triggering manic episodes. Talk with your doctor about proper dosages. And also learn about how SAMe might interact with other medications you take.
Other herbs and supplements
Magnesium: Small studies suggest magnesium supplements can decrease mania and rapid cycling, according to the Mayo Clinic. More research is needed to confirm this.
N-acetylcysteine: This antioxidant helps reduce oxidative stress. People who took 2 grams of N-acetylcysteine a day showed significant improvement in depression, mania, and quality of life, according to one study. It takes about eight weeks to be effective.
Choline: This water-soluble vitamin is effective for symptoms of mania. People who got 2,000 to 7,200 milligrams of choline a day had improved manic symptoms, according to a scientific report.
Inositol: Inositol is a synthetic vitamin that may help with depression. Studies found that 17.4 percent of people with resistant depression recovered after taking inositol.
St. John’s wort: Results for using St. John’s wort are mixed. This herb is no more effective than a placebo for short-term, or mild to moderate depression, according to studies.
Another study found that St. John’s wort extract helped prevent relapse from acute depression.
Discuss the use of St. John’s wort with your doctor. Before purchasing the product make sure it is good quality and it won’t cause negative side effects.
Calming techniques to reduce symptoms
Stress complicates bipolar disorder. Several alternative treatments aim to reduce anxiety and stress. These treatments include:
- massage therapy
Meditation can help you cope with the stresses of daily life. This therapy can also teach you how to control your reaction to the world around you. One survey found the majority of yoga practitioners with bipolar disorder reported positive effects. One in five people said yoga was “life changing.” But some people also reported side effects of agitation and injuries with yoga.
Calming techniques can’t cure bipolar disorder. But they can help you manage your symptoms and be a valuable part of your treatment plan.
You can also use ancient Chinese medicine, or acupuncture, to relieve anxiety and stress. Practitioners of acupuncture insert tiny needles into the body. This procedure improves the balance and flow of energy and promotes self-healing.
Light therapy helps treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression related to when seasons change. This therapy involves working near a light box that mimics natural outdoor light. It may also improve bipolar disorder.
Speak with your doctor first because light therapy may trigger mania.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT)
Erratic patterns and sleep deprivation may worsen symptoms of bipolar. This type of therapy 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
Tracking your moods and managing your lifestyle can reduce mania and depressive symptoms. IPSRT is almost always prescribed alongside bipolar medications.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Traumatic events can affect someone with bipolar disorder. EMDR is a trauma resolution therapy aimed to relieve emotional and physiological trauma. With EMDR, a person will think about a traumatic memory, trigger, or event. As they do this, they’ll focus on external sensory stimuli like hand taps or eye movements. These sessions should help you process your experience and relieve stress.
In one study, people who underwent EMDR therapy showed significant improvement of bipolar symptoms.
These lifestyle changes may help with managing bipolar disorder triggers:
Exercise regularly: People with bipolar disorder have a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Exercise can also help stabilize moods, ease depression, and increase sleep.
Get plenty of sleep: Adequate sleep can also help stabilize your mood and reduce irritability. Tips to improve sleep include establishing a routine and creating a calm bedroom environment.
Avoid unhealthy relationships: People who encourage risk-taking behavior can worsen your bipolar disorder. Avoid relationships that encourage unhealthy behaviors like alcohol consumption or use of illegal substances.
Eat healthy foods: Along with eating fish and omega-3 fatty acids, you can reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, which are linked to brain chemical imbalances.
Research suggests that alternative treatments for depression may work for bipolar disorder. These include fish oil supplements and light therapy. But the effectiveness of alternative treatments for bipolar disorder still needs more research. And alternative treatments shouldn’t replace your current treatment or medication.
Insurance may also not cover these treatments and therapies. Always talk to your doctor before starting an alternative treatment. Supplements may cause side effects with any medications you may be taking.