Let’s talk about mental health: Bipolar disorder5 years ago | Mental Health
By pH health care professionals
October recently brought us World Mental Health Day. So let's look at a commonly misunderstood mental disorder -- bipolar disorder.
Signs of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is characterized by prolonged "highs" and "lows" in mood. During "highs," or manic states, people with bipolar disorder might be talking a mile a minute and have many ideas. They may seem to be tripping over their own words, sleep very little and spend large amounts of money. They may have high confidence and experience interpersonal problems.
Then, there are “lows.” These depressed states can last for several days. The person might be crying, unable to go to work, and may need more sleep. They may eat poorly or be suicidal. Some people with bipolar disorder also have language difficulties. They may leave words out of their communications, or have difficulty getting their points across, despite adequate education.
Some bipolar patients may have angry outbursts or irritability, at times. This can occur during "mixed episodes." Mixed episodes have the person experiencing a manic state and depression at the same time.
People with bipolar disorder may also show more subtle signs. Their depression may not be bad enough to keep them away from their job, or their manic state might result in some overeating or a little extra shopping, but not the kind that leaves them bankrupt. Overall, according to one study, people with bipolar disorder tend to be more impulsive, less persistent in tasks, and struggle with self-direction.
Now, bipolar disorder can be diagnosed very early in children. Children of bipolar parents should be observed carefully, as there may be a genetic component. "Acting out," a depressed mood and other signs should trigger a visit to a child psychiatrist to determine whether the child has bipolar disorder.
With treatment and social support, people with bipolar disorder can lead productive lives. A combination of lifelong medication and therapy is usually necessary. And now, new research in mental health may prove a role for nutrition or supplements in treating bipolar disorder.
While studies of supplements for bipolar disorder have shown limited promise, a review of studies by Taiwanese researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids may be very beneficial to the brain, particularly in patients with depressive disorders. More specifically, a recent paper reported that bipolar patients with lower blood levels of linoleic acid assessed their level of mental health and life functioning as worse than patients with normal levels. Linoleic acid is a fatty acid found in walnuts, flaxseed and leafy greens.
Additionally, a micronutrient supplement is being tested in bipolar children as an alternative to drugs. The ingredients can be found here (note that this combination has not yet been proven safe).
Genes may also play a role. According to a Swiss paper, "The B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B12 and B6 are essential for neuronal function, and severe deficiencies have been linked to increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, psychiatric disease and dementia." There are gene mutations, such as the MTHFR mutation, that drastically decrease absorption of needed vitamins -- even from traditional supplements. People with bipolar disorder may have a mutation and not even know that something as simple as a differently formulated B12 pill could make a difference for them.
Talk to a doctor about testing for vitamin deficiencies, genetic testing and specialized B-vitamin supplementation. The coming years should bring much more information about safe treatment for bipolar disorder.
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