One day you win the lottery and feel on top of the world for a while. Then, a few days later you may learn that an old friend or family member passed away and your mood plummets. These are normal ups and downs of living. Yet, extreme highs and lows, that seem to have no rhyme nor reason in their occurrence, and may also be associated with reckless, or dangerous, behavior, could indicate a mental health issue called bipolar disorder. I’d like to tell you more about this disorder, how to recognize it, and some natural ways that can help deal with it. First, let’s start with some background on the disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Extreme highs and lows that may last for a few days at a time could mean you have a chemical imbalance in your brain that results in bipolar disorder. It is a disorder that affects both men and women of every ethnicity – though women are 3 times more likely to have it. It is usually first seen in late teen years – about age 18 – although it can come on earlier in childhood or later in middle-age.
Sometimes there are other physical ailments that can be associated with, and/or mimic, bipolar disorder symptoms such as:
- Low thyroid – low thyroid hormone can lower serotonin.
- Low blood sugar – hypoglycemia can lower serotonin.
- Substance abuse – cocaine, alcohol, amphetamines, antidepressants, and recreational drugs can create serious mood swings.
Bipolar disorder results from a decreased level of serotonin – a “feel good” hormone in the brain. It is important to have thyroid and blood sugar levels drawn first to determine if these may be the cause of your mood swings. In addition, substance abuse with alcohol or street drugs can also cause imbalance of serotonin and mimic bipolar mood swings. Stopping the substance abuse usually corrects the problem.
Low serotonin levels appears to run in families, so if a close blood relative – like parent or grandparent – had extreme mood swings, you, too, could be affected by them.
There are several types of bipolar disorder which range from more mild symptoms (cyclothymia) to bipolar I and II and/or mixed bipolar with rapid or slow cycling of mood swing events. It creates two types of moods – mania, or the “high” mood – and depression, the low mood.
Symptoms and behavior associated with mania include: poor judgment, increased sex drive, money/credit card spending sprees, short-temper/violent behavior, lack of sleep – sometimes not sleeping for days at a time, fast talking and jumping around of ideas.
Symptoms associated with depression include: low mood, sleeping for long periods of time, fatigue, change in appetite with unintentional weight gain/loss, lack of pleasure in any activity (anhedonia). May even be suicidal or have suicidal thoughts.
Natural Ways That Help Treat Bipolar Disorder
Depending on the type and severity of the bipolar mood disorder, drugs like lithium, anti-seizure drugs, mood stabilizer drugs, antipsychotics or antidepressants are often used. Yet, some natural methods can augment drug treatment as well. They include:
1. Regular aerobic exercise. Research shows that exercise naturally produces “endorphins”, certain hormones that raise serotonin levels in the brain. Regular exercise can help decrease/stabilize bipolar-type mood swings.
2. Herbs. Herbal remedies like Passiflora and lavender have been used by alternative practitioners to augment drug treatment for bipolar disorder.
3. Homeopathic. Biochemical tissue salts like Natrium sulphate, Kalium phosphate and Natrium phosphate have been used for mood swings as they have a calming effect.
4. Alcohol ban. Combining psychotropic drugs together with alcohol can elevate their effect. Also, alcohol is a depressant which can cause mood swings to occur.
5. Minimize sugar. Refined sugar has been found in research to aggravate mood swings. Avoid or minimize dessert foods, soda, and candy, anything that contains refined sugar.
6. Minimize caffeine. Bipolar symptoms stabilize better when caffeine is decreased or cut out, as it can aggravate the cycling between high and low moods.
7. Optimize nutrition. Stick to fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry/fish products, some dairy. Mental health research has shown that B vitamins, especially B1, B6 and B12, can be very helpful in mood disorders as well as dementia. Take 1 B-complex daily. Natural Vitamin E, 400 mg daily, is helpful, especially if you must take the anti-seizure type medications like Depakene or Depakote. Omega-3 oils (fish, krill, flaxseed) help fight depression -1-2,000 mg daily.
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million Americans. If you experience severe mood swings, please see your doctor to rule out any reasons that may be causing it. Once correctly diagnosed, an effective treatment plan can help you live a productive, healthy life. Augmenting your treatment plan with optimal nutrition and exercise can also help stabilize moods dramatically. You may also want to ask an alternative practitioner if natural herbs and homeopathies, like those mentioned here may also enhance your treatment plan.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
What is Bipolar Disorder? http://www.nativeremedies.com/ailment/bipolar-disorder-symptoms-info.html
Vitamins for Bipolar Disorder, http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/vitamins-for-bipolar-disorder/
Bipolar disorder, http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_bipolar_disorder
photo credit: rodolfopamplonafilho.blogspot.com