Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments for bipolar disorder focus on reducing depressive or manic symptoms and lowering stress to reduce the odds of triggering a new episode. As is the case with many alternative treatments for any disease or condition, opinions are often mixed as to the efficacy of some treatment methods, and research is often minimal in comparison to traditional medicine treatments.

However, many people have had success in using alternative treatments in the management of many diseases and conditions, including bipolar disorder. Before trying any alternative treatments, you should always check with your doctor to be sure that the methods are safe and right for you or your loved one.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can stop cycles of behavior that worsen bipolar disorder. Here are some steps that doctors and psychologists suggest.

Exercise Regulary

Moderate, regular exercise can help steady mood and alleviate depression, and it releases brain chemicals called endorphins that cause euphoric feelings and can help normalize sleep patterns. Exercise is also good for the heart and can help maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important for people with bipolar disorder because they have a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Getting enough sleep can help stabilize mood and reduce irritability. If you have trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about tips that can help.

Learn more about the importance of sleep. 

Avoid Unhealthy Relationships

Sometimes family members, friends, or a therapist or counselor may point out that some of your relationships encourage unhealthy behaviors that can trigger depression or mania, worsen your bipolar disorder. Try to surround yourself with people who are positive influences.

Learn how relationships can affect your disorder. 

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 Better

Consuming fatty fish may help reduce depression and improve brain function and behavior in people with bipolar disorder. Consuming fatty fish is also good for the heart, which is important because people with bipolar disorder are at greater risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish like albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, salmon, and sardines at least two times a week. Doctors also recommend stopping caffeine, which can alter mood and disrupt sleep, and reducing intake of unhealthy fats, such as saturated and trans fats, because these have been linked to brain chemical imbalances.  

Learn the importance of a healthy diet.

Herbs and Supplements

Although these over-the-counter supplements have not been proven effective for treating bipolar disorder in clinical trials, there is some preliminary evidence that they may be helpful in stabilizing mood and relieving depressive symptoms.

Fish Oil

Because 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 associated with bipolar disorder. However, these studies usually do not account for other environmental factors that may also lead to a change in the rate of bipolar disease in a community.

Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found in small studies to reduce irritability and aggression and to maintain mood stability better than placebo in people with bipolar disorder. Beneficial doses range from 1 g to 9 g of fish oil. Studies have found that fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce symptoms in people with depression, but more studies are needed to determine just how much they help in treating bipolar disorder. Furthermore, intake of even 1 gram of fish oil per day is nearly impossible in the modern American diet. Supplementation is required to consistently reach this level of intake.

St. John's Wort

Some studies suggest that this herb is helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression, but it has not yet been studied in people with bipolar disorder. However, published reports have documented cases of sudden onset of mania in bipolar patients who took St. John's Wort.

S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe)

This amino acid supplement appears to alleviate symptoms of depression, but it has not yet been researched specifically as a remedy for bipolar disorder. SAMe has been shown to trigger mania in some people.

Learn more about supplements for bipolar disorder.

Mind-Body Techniques

Yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture are all techniques that may relieve depression and mood swings associated with bipolar disorder, as well as reduce the anxiety and stress that can trigger bipolar disorder symptoms. 

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