This second article in a series on natural treatment of psychological disorders focuses on bipolar disorder, somewhat related to the focus of the first article, which was on depression (see last month's issue).  The information contained in this article is backed by research which is available upon request.

Bipolar Disorder

            Overlapping somewhat with depression, bipolar disorder (BPD) includes depressive episodes that can be treated similarly, primarily with substances that help to increase serotonin (tryptophan and magnesium), dopamine, and norepinephrine levels (phenylalanine and tyrosine) appropriately.  SAM-e, omega 3, and B vitamins may be useful as well. 

            Individuals diagnosed with BPD should be screened initially for thyroid issues by testing free triiodothyronine (T3) levels, as well as other standard thyroid parameters, due to a higher probability of thyroid dysfunction than the general population.  For integrative or biomedical treatment approaches, initial screening for thyroid dysfunction is also important to differentiate between pre-existing thyroid disorders and those induced by treatment with lithium carbonate.  Prescription lithium carbonate is a standard treatment for BPD that often results in a flat affect, memory loss, tremors, and weight gain, partly due to high dosages and resultant thyroid disorders.  If initially screened patients are positive for thyroid issues, these can be treated naturally with desiccated thyroid, minerals selenium, zinc, and copper, amino acid tyrosine, iodine, and/or herbal substances such as bugelweed, melissa (lemon balm), or bladderwrack (kelp), depending on the specific disorder encountered.  If negative for thyroid issues, then further testing may point to a natural approach to treatment. 

            BPD may involve acetylcholine sensitivity, high levels of vanadium, deficiencies in B vitamins or vitamin C, diminished levels of amino acid taurine, or low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL), which is related to omega 3 levels.  If vanadium is elevated or the patient's vitamin C level is low, treatment with vitamin C may reduce mania.  Since taurine deficiency may lead to mania, either direct supplementation of this amino acid or n-acetyl-cysteine for conversion into taurine in the liver may reduce manic episode frequency.  Taurine (a calming amino acid that curbs excess acetylcholine) and lithium orotate are considered alternatives to prescription lithium carbonate. 

            All of these treatment approaches require measurement of existing levels in the body and proper dosages are needed to achieve the desired results, preferably in a clinical setting where monitoring and adjustment of treatment levels may be accomplished.