Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that may sound or look scary to some people. The significant mood swings of someone with this condition can make them challenging to understand and live with. Family members may struggle to know what to do to help, and health professionals reassure everyone that medications are the only answer. This article will explore the contributing factors behind bipolar and some potential nutritional and lifestyle solutions.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Mayo Clinic describes bipolar disorder as “a treatable mood disorder in which people have extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (manias) and lows (depression).” This condition was previously called manic depression or manic-depressive illness. 
The mood swings that characterize bipolar are more severe than the routine ups and downs of life. These manias or lows may be accompanied by extreme shifts in energy and activity levels and can span a few days or up to several months. If a patient is experiencing psychosis or has symptoms indicating they are a risk to themselves or others, hospitalization may be required.
The field of psychiatry breaks bipolar disorder down into three main categories: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia: 
Bipolar I: This is diagnosed if the person has had one or more manic episodes preceded or followed by a hypomanic or major depressive episode. Occasionally, mania may trigger psychosis – a temporary break from reality.
Bipolar II: This is diagnosed if the person has had at least one major depressive episode and one or more hypomanic episodes but hasn’t had a manic episode.
Cyclothymia: This is diagnosed only if the person has had two years of intermittent hypomania and depressive symptoms (not as severe as major depression).
Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II is not a measure of severity. They are two separate diagnoses based on medical history. Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed in one’s teens or early 20s, and symptoms may vary from person to person and change over time.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder symptoms vary based on whether the person is in a period of mania or depression: 
Common Manic Symptoms
During manic episodes, those with bipolar seem to have excessive energy. Some common symptoms of mania include:
- Being abnormally upbeat, jumpy, or wired
- Excessive energy or agitation
- Feelings of euphoria
- Racing thoughts
- Poor decision-making
- Being easily distracted
- Unusual levels of conversation
These occur when the person is on a manic “high.” But after a time of excess, they drop into depression.
Common Depressive Symptoms
During depressive episodes, the person exhibits a low mood and other symptoms of depression. Bipolar depression symptoms may include:
- Low mood or depression
- Fatigue or low energy
- Slow behavior or activity
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Significant weight loss or weight gain or changes in appetite
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Reduced ability to focus
- Consideration of suicide
Bipolar may also lead to anxiety or feelings of melancholy. If severe, it may lead to psychosis.
How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by a physical exam, psychiatric examination, and mood charting (including sleep patterns). The doctor will also compare reported symptoms with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Children with bipolar often have symptoms of ADHD.
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that help with healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness in healing.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Bipolar Disorder
Mainstream healthcare providers look at mental health conditions like bipolar as genetically determined and tend to believe medications are essential to bipolar disorder treatment. Doctors generally prescribe medications and psychotherapy to help the patient manage symptoms. However, some open-minded doctors may also suggest integrative therapies as part of their treatment plan.
Common Medications for Bipolar
Conventional treatment of bipolar disorder almost always includes medications of some kind, although some doctors may also recommend psychotherapy (talk therapy) or joining support groups. Here are some common drugs used for bipolar:
- Mood Stabilizers: Lithium (Lithobid) is the most famous mood-stabilizing drug. Other options/examples include valproic acid (Depakene) and divalproex sodium (Depakote).
- Antipsychotics: These are prescribed if mood stabilizers aren’t enough to control manic or depressive symptoms. Examples include olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), and quetiapine (Seroquel).
- Antidepressants: Doctors may prescribe antidepressants like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for the depressive symptoms of bipolar. Examples include Cymbalta, Pristiq, and Effexor. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa may also be used.
- Antidepressant-Antipsychotics: Symbyax is a drug that combines an antidepressant (fluoxetine) with an antipsychotic (olanzapine). It’s meant to be a combination treatment that alleviates depression while stabilizing mood.
- Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines like Diazepam may also be added to address anxiety and insomnia.
Medications are believed to treat bipolar disorder by manipulating neurotransmitters in the brain. They may help with symptoms. However, they all have adverse side effects and can cause other health problems. Those side effects are often why some people seek out natural remedies or natural ways to overcome bipolar.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder? Trauma, Toxins, and Thoughts
Mainstream medicine tends to believe pharmaceutical drugs are the only proven way to address bipolar disorder. They also tend to think mental health is unrelated to physical health. However, at The Wellness Way, we disagree.
While there’s undoubtedly a genetic component to bipolar, it’s possible to influence genetic expression based on environmental stressors, namely, traumas, toxins, and thoughts.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the small intestine, leading to dis-ease and triggering an inflammatory response. An inflamed gut is an inflamed brain. Other traumas that may contribute to bipolar disorder include the following:
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)
- Severe illness or infection
- Military combat – PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
The potential benefits of chiropractic care should not be underestimated in addressing these physical traumas. Lowering inflammation by taking stress off the central nervous system can significantly improve mood stability.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
Toxins are biochemical stressors that may be either natural or synthetic. Toxins that may contribute to or aggravate bipolar disorder include:
- Addictive substances/Medications – These may include alcohol, cocaine, opioids, interferon (IFN), corticosteroids, digoxin, and antiepileptic medications. 
- Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing intestinal inflammation if you’re allergic to them.  Intestinal inflammation is linked to depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders .
- Metal toxicity – The buildup of certain toxic metals like lead and cadmium may also damage the brain and increase the risk of developing bipolar in some people. 
- Parasites – Certain parasites can trigger bipolar and other neuropsychiatric conditions by affecting dopamine production. Examples include Toxoplasma gondii and W. Bancrofti. 
Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Emotional stress can significantly contribute to bipolar symptoms, and staying stressed can make it challenging to overcome it. Researchers have found that stress triggers mania, sleep issues, and chronic inflammation. According to researchers, “Since inflammation desynchronizes the internal clock, chronic stress and inflammation are the primary biological mechanisms behind bipolar disorder.” 
Here are some potential emotional contributors to chronic stress, inflammation, and bipolar disorder:
- Emotional stress from marriage, financial, career, or other issues
- A state of overwhelm by substantial life changes, such as marriage, a new baby, graduation, divorce, or even moving to a new city.
- Grief/feelings of loss
- Pent up anger
- A toxic workplace
Thoughts are powerful! Feeling constantly stressed may trigger or aggravate bipolar disorder by contributing to inflammation in the brain.
The Wellness Way Approach to Bipolar Disorder
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We start with testing to see where there may be imbalances and then develop a personalized nutrition and supplement plan to help the body heal itself.
Important Tests for Assessing Your Gut and Brain Health
Here are some commonly recommended tests for gut, immune, and brain health at The Wellness Way:
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
- Gut Health Test: Genova GI Effects with Parasitology
- DUTCH Test: DUTCH Complete Hormone Panel
- Thyroid Panel: Thyroid Panel
The recommended tests will be determined by your Wellness Way practitioner, who will carefully consider your symptoms and health history and prioritize the most important ones.
Dietary Changes for Those with Bipolar Disorder
First, we must lower inflammation so the gut can heal. That means avoiding your food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as recommended by your Wellness Way practitioner. These are some additional guidelines for inflammatory conditions like bipolar:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation. Balancing blood sugar is also important for keeping depression at bay.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. 
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated –and even beneficial. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil; or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Avoid alcohol – Alcohol compromises the intestinal lining and increases inflammation. Chronic alcohol use is associated with an increase in bipolar symptoms.
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Specific nutrient-dense foods: Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for added nutrition.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and foods high in polyphenols can help keep inflammation under control. Goji berries are a great source of natural lithium!
Sticking to a healthy diet is essential, but supplements can help the body in healing the gut and brain.
Potential Supplements For Those with Bipolar
Herbal supplements and other dietary supplements can be incredibly supportive in overcoming bipolar symptoms. They can also improve a person’s overall quality of life and sense of well-being.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – Fish oil provides the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These nutrients have been shown to lower inflammation, support healthy cell membranes, and modify signaling proteins like neurotransmitters. 
- Vitamin B12 and Folate – These two nutrients tend to be deficient in bipolar patients.
- Vitamin D – Those with bipolar disorder are 4.7 times more likely to be deficient in vitamin D than the general public. Supplementing may be helpful for some. 
- Inositol – A review study found that inositol, a substance with actions similar to vitamin B complex, may be helpful for bipolar conditions. 
- Increase glutathione – The supplement N-acetylcysteine (NAC) increases glutathione production in the body. In studies, NAC supplementation significantly improved symptoms of depression in those with bipolar. 
***Those with bipolar disorder should generally not use St. John’s wort, as it can cause serotonin syndrome and trigger mania.
Everyone is different – herbal remedies that work for one person may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing causes to bipolar.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies for Bipolar
Additional alternative treatments that may bring balance to the brain to alleviate mental include the following:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT is a structured form of talk therapy that focuses on thoughts, feelings, and behavior to improve coping strategies and alleviate symptoms. A meta-analysis of CBT on bipolar found it decreased relapse rate and improved depressive symptoms. 
- Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy – This practice combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness-based stress reduction to lessen symptoms of bipolar disorder 
- Physical activity – Regular exercise has been shown to help mood disorders like bipolar by raising endorphins in the body. Increasing endorphins can help lift the mood.
- Acupuncture – A 2022 study found that 12 weeks (about 3 months) of acupuncture reduced feelings of anxiety and depression in bipolar patients and improved their quality of life. 
- Light Therapy – A meta-analysis of 11 studies concluded light therapy had a positive effect on bipolar depression. 
Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about depression.
Educational Resources for Bipolar Disorder
Videos & Webinars Related to Bipolar
Articles to Support Those with Bipolar
- Missing Pieces: 4 Surprising Factors To Mental Health
- “It’s All In Your Gut.”
- Dopamine: The “Motivation” Neurotransmitter
- What Causes Leaky Gut and How Can You Heal It? – The Wellness Way
CONNECT WITH US!
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get innovative training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. Reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today to get thorough testing and start on your health journey. We are here to help!
- Bipolar disorder – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
- Substance Induced Mood Disorders – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Food Allergies: The Basics – PMC (nih.gov)
- The Gut-Brain Axis: How Microbiota and Host Inflammasome Influence Brain Physiology and Pathology – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The Role of Lead and Cadmium in Psychiatry – PMC (nih.gov)
- Associations of mental disorders and neurotropic parasitic diseases: a meta-analysis in developing and emerging countries | BMC Public Health | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
- A bipolar disorder patient becoming asymptomatic after adjunctive anti-filiarasis treatment: a case report – PMC (nih.gov)
- Bipolar disorder: An evolutionary psychoneuroimmunological approach – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Mood disorders and non-celiac gluten sensitivity – PubMed (nih.gov)
- In vitro evaluation of immunomodulatory activities of goat milk Extracellular Vesicles (mEVs) in a model of gut inflammation – PubMed (nih.gov)
- The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Fish oil and depression: The skinny on fats – PMC (nih.gov)
- IJMS | Free Full-Text | Therapeutic Interventions to Mitigate Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Oxidative Stress-Induced Damage in Patients with Bipolar Disorder (mdpi.com)
- Vitamin D and the omega‐3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior – Patrick – 2015 – The FASEB Journal – Wiley Online Library
- Lithium orotate: A superior option for lithium therapy? – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Nutrient-based therapies for bipolar disorder: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)
- N-acetyl cysteine for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder–a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy in patients with bipolar disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials – PubMed (nih.gov)Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Effect of Acupuncture on Physical Symptoms and Quality of Life in Treatment-Resistant Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder: a Single-Arm Longitudinal Study – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Antidepressant light therapy for bipolar patients: A meta-analyses – PubMed (nih.gov)