Bipolar disorder is a form of mental illness in which there are extreme mood shifts. The disorder was once called manic depression. It is characterized by manic or hypomanic “high” periods with increased energy and euphoria, along with very “low” periods of sadness and depression. In this article, we will explore natural treatment for bipolar disorder symptoms.
In the U.S., it is estimated that 2.8% of adolescents and adults, or 5 million people, suffer from bipolar disorder. The disorder is categorized into three subtypes, including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder.
A person with bipolar disorder will have difficulty managing everyday tasks at work or school. For instance, some people may have performance issues, or they may spontaneously quit their job. Youths may skip or drop out of school. Many bipolar disorder sufferers also have a problem holding onto relationships, communicating with others, and taking care of their bodies.
Bipolar disorder can be controlled throughout a person’s life. Read on to see what you can do to manage bipolar disorder, which includes lifestyle changes; psychotherapy; light therapy; and a number of natural supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, choline, ashwagandha, and more.
In This Article:
Lifestyle Changes for Bipolar Disorder
Making some lifestyle changes in addition to diet and exercise are ways to naturally treat bipolar disorder. Routine can help stabilize mood, so scheduling your day can have a big help in preventing major mood swings. Some of the areas with noted benefit include:
1. Sleep Schedule and Strong Sleep Hygiene
Sleep scheduling is of the utmost importance to people with bipolar disorder. Because manic states often leave them short on sleep and depressive ones leave them sleeping too much, a regular sleep schedule can help keep them on track.
Getting to bed and waking up around the same time each day is highly beneficial, and is best accomplished by practicing good sleep hygiene. Set a bedtime and stick to it, while making sure the last waking hour before bed is spent without any screens on, or emotional/stimulating activity.
A warm bath, shower, and reading are all recommended. Also, keep televisions, computer, tablets, and cell phones out of the bedroom.
2. Daily Routine to Keep Focus
Getting up at the same time every day and keeping to a schedule can limit manic and depressive episodes. Staying occupied can keep the mind from wandering, so try and schedule regular daily events. These can be simple things like eating breakfast, exercising, reading, or grocery shopping at set times throughout the day. The more you have to do, the easier it is to stay on track.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
Along with exercise, periods of mindfulness and meditation can help calm nerves, ease anxiety, and create balance and inner peace. Prayer and meditation can help you focus your energy and attention in productive ways while encouraging regular sleep.
Mindfulness meditation is also an effective way to recognize when your mood is becoming a problem. Furthermore, it can be done on your own time and in the comfort of your home.
A healthy diet is crucial in the lifestyle habits of those with bipolar disorder. When you change your diet, it can have an immediate impact on how you feel. Overweight, obesity, and binge eating rates are much higher among bipolar disorder patients.
Your diet can also affect energy, neurotransmitter function, and overall mood. Let’s take a look at what foods to eat and what foods to avoid with bipolar disorder.
Foods to Eat
A healthy diet for people with bipolar disorder will include:
Healthy fats: Great healthy-fat foods include raw dairy, coconut, olive oil, avocado, and grass-fed meats. Saturated fat in particular will support neurological health and cellular function.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for brain health, and they are found in seafood like salmon, sardines, halibut, tuna, and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Clean and lean proteins: Try to consume four to five ounces of high-quality lean protein at each meal for a variety of amino acids. Consider lean protein foods like free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, wild fish, and pasture-raised poultry like turkey and chicken.
High-fiber foods: High fiber in the form of vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans, and other legumes is essential for brain function.
Fruit and vegetables: Your natural treatment for bipolar disorder diet will always be rich in fruits and vegetables. Vital nutrients like antioxidants to support your mood.
Magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, Swiss chard, and broccoli. The mineral can help with the maintenance of nerve and muscle function, which help with the sleep problems people with bipolar disorder tend to experience.
In 2013, preliminary research from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston found that magnesium may reduce symptoms of mania associated with bipolar disorder as well.
Foods to Avoid
What foods should you avoid? People with bipolar disorder are best to avoid foods high in refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, artificial ingredients, and added sodium. It is also best to avoid or cut back on alcohol, caffeine, and hydrogenated fats.
Moderate and regular exercise is an excellent way to balance your mood. Exercise is a great natural treatment for bipolar disorder because it builds confidence, reduces stress and anxiety, and helps with sleep and fatigue and feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Many therapists recommend bipolar disorder patients take a walk outdoors each day to help stay in touch with nature and exposure them to uplifting natural light.
A systematic review published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2016 found that exercise was linked to improved depressive symptoms, quality of life, and overall functioning. That being said, some believe exercise can also worsen manic symptoms.
Exercise can also help you lose weight that may have been gained due to certain bipolar medications such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers. If you’re suddenly gaining weight after beginning these medications, it is best you consult with your doctor. Uncontrolled weight gain may lead to a change of medication. Only change your dosage or medication after first talking with your doctor.
The combination of exercise and a healthy diet can help you lose the weight. Keep in mind, though, that exercise may interfere with the bipolar drug lithium. Consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
Acupuncture is another calming natural treatment for bipolar disorder, and it could be particularly helpful for alleviating anxiety, depression, weight problems, and insomnia. An acupuncturist will apply pressure along certain areas of the body with acupuncture needles, which may clear up any emotional or energy blockages to allow the body to heal.
Acupuncture has been found to help bipolar disorder patients improve their response to stress. This is because acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, helps release endorphins, and reduces symptoms of depression and mania.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2009 found that acupuncture improved mood and reduced depression with few negative side effects.
Yoga can also be a helpful natural treatment for bipolar disorder. Yoga is thought of as a “moving meditation” that helps to balance your emotions and leave you feeling relaxed. It involves meditation, controlled breathing, and disciplined movement. The combination of stretches and balancing postures will leave you feeling calmer.
Yoga can also help you manage stress, which can trigger bipolar disorder episodes. Hatha yoga is a calmer type of yoga good for managing stress in beginners with bipolar disorder.
Additional Natural Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
Diet, exercise, and pharmaceutical treatment are not the only answers for bipolar disorder. There are other techniques and treatments that can work well in conjunction with these measures:
There are various therapeutic techniques offered by specialists to help people deal with bipolar disorder. It is very effective in most cases, and can be an excellent complementary treatment to lifestyle and pharmaceutical options. It may be conducted in a group or in individual sessions with a psychologist.
Some various forms of psychotherapy include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal/social rhythm therapy, and psychoeducation.
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is a type of psychotherapy that aims to help a person with bipolar disorder adopt good sleep habits, maintain a regular routine, and solve problems that interrupt their routine.
IPSRT is founded on the belief that problems with the circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation can worsen bipolar disorder symptoms.
One 2015 study published in the journal Bipolar Disorders found that IPSRT can reduce depressive and manic symptoms and improve overall daily social functioning in adults and adolescents with bipolar disorder.
2. Light Therapy
Since people with bipolar disorder may have a disrupted circadian rhythm, strategies like light therapy can help reset your internal clock and help manage bipolar disorder symptoms. Light therapy will include forced change of sleep times, and timed exposure to periods of darkness and light.
Light therapy can help during depressive periods, but may induce mania. It’s best to talk to your doctor about your specific case before purchasing a light box and trying light therapy.
3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is a technique that improves bipolar disorder symptoms when using a supervised program of eye movements while also actively remembering traumatic experiences.
A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research in 2014 suggests that EMDR may be a safe and effective therapy for mood and trauma symptoms in bipolar symptoms with a history of trauma.
4. Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil supplements can also be part of a natural treatment for bipolar disorder. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are particular omega-3 fatty acids that help regulate mood; improve brain function; and reduce symptoms of depression, aggression, and irritability.
It is noted that in countries where people consume more fish and fish oil supplements, there is a low bipolar disorder incidence.
Inositol is a synthetic vitamin that is considered another potential natural treatment for bipolar disorder. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2006 found that 17.4% of people receiving inositol as part of additional therapy had recovered from depressive symptoms and had no mood symptoms for an eight-week period.
For the study, 66 bipolar disorder patients who were experiencing a major depressive episode and were resistant to a combination of mood stabilizers and antidepressants, were also given inositol or another therapy for up to a 16-week period.
Choline is a water-soluble vitamin that may be effective for mania symptoms in people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. A small study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 1996 suggested that six people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder receiving 2,000 milligrams (mg) to 7,200 mg of choline daily, in addition to their lithium treatment, were found to have an improvement of manic symptoms.
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic herb also called golden root or arctic root. This means the herb may be able to control the body’s response to stress. Rhodiola may help increase dopamine sensitivity, which in turn improves mood and prevents depression.
As a result, moderate doses could potentially help people with bipolar disorder taking mood stabilizers and experiencing symptoms like depression and occasional mild hypomanic symptoms. Rhodiola also has fewer side effects than antidepressants.
S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) is a coenzyme found in the body that has been shown to treat major depressive disorder, according to a comprehensive review published in the journal CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets in 2016.
However, use caution when using SAMe for depression in bipolar disorder since some dosages of the supplement can trigger mania.
Herbal remedies are important for conditions such as bipolar disorder. Ashwagandha is an ancient adaptogenic herb known within Ayurvedic medicine to help with immunity, stamina, and adrenal and mental fatigue.
A randomized, placebo-controlled adjunctive study from 2013 also found that ashwagandha improved cognitive capacity in 29 bipolar disorder patients during an eight-week period. The participants performed several bipolar tests that measured response time, cognition, and social cognition response.
Ashwagandha is also known to treat anxiety and depressive behaviors associated with bipolar disorder. Other herbs used to treat depressive disorders include St. John’s wort, Ginkgo biloba, saffron, and lavender.
10. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is another natural treatment for bipolar disorder. Massage therapy is thought to benefit bipolar disorder patients by increasing levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the body as massage may help restore levels back to normal. Massage therapy might also relieve some stress and anxiety associated with bipolar disorder.
Keeping Bipolar Disorder in Check Naturally
Natural treatments and lifestyle components play a big role in the management and regulation of bipolar disorder. Although medication might still be necessary, you have the power to treat bipolar disorder naturally by using exercise, diet, and other beneficial lifestyle adjustments.
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