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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

An estimated 5 million Americans are suffering with bipolar disorder, with even more struggling with chronic depression. Bipolar disorder involves cyclical periods of depression and mania. This is why it is called bipolar disorder. Mania is a decreased need for sleep, engaging in risky behavior, excessive speech, and inability to concentrate in social or work activities. People with depression can also have mood swings, irritability, or changes in energy; it is important to distinguish mood swings from a manic episode.

When a patient with bipolar symptoms comes into our office, the first step is to establish a clear diagnosis of their mood disorder. Testing may be helpful in ruling out chemical or hormonal imbalances, such as a thyroid disorder, which can contribute to symptoms of depression, mania, or anxiety.

Some people have been misdiagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, when their mood changes are in fact due to some biological cause that can be treated by correcting the underlying hormonal or chemical problem. Others have been misdiagnosed when they have another psychological diagnosis that requires different treatment, such as a personality disorder or another condition that can cause similar symptoms or behaviors.

A Holistic Perspective

Naturopathic physicians are trained to discover and address the deepest fundamental causes of a person’s health concerns. When determining where to begin with treatment, we look at causes rather than only superficial symptoms. We then choose treatment options that will correct the underlying cause.

Rather than taking a more mechanistic view of looking at the patient as a machine with broken parts that must be fixed with one drug per broken piece, naturopathic doctors approach the patient as a dynamic whole, with interconnected and interdependent systems. When one system is out of balance, it often will affect other body systems. With this perspective, we recommend a simpler and safer treatment plan that addresses multiple health concerns by getting to the root of the problem. Complete remission from depression and bipolar disorder is possible. Homeopathic treatment is a safe and effective option in reaching recovery.

Conventional Treatment

Antidepressants, antipsychotics, and seizure drugs are commonly used to reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression. These medications cause changes in brain chemistry, making depression or mania less pronounced. These prescriptions can be very effective, but in some cases, they do not work at all. Also, they often have undesirable side effects, such as weight gain or sexual dysfunction. Serious long-term risks from some of these medications may contribute to diabetes and heart disease.

Homeopathic Treatment

Homeopathy is one of the best options for addressing the underlying causes of mood disorders. Homeopathic remedies are made from natural sources such as plants and minerals. They usually come in the form of small pills that dissolve under your tongue.

Rather than giving the same medicine to each patient with the same diagnosis, homeopathic remedies are selected for each person based on the entire symptom picture, in addition to the diagnosis and disease pathology. For treating bipolar disorder or depression, several hundred homeopathic remedies are available. In order to find the right one for you, your naturopathic doctor will ask questions to understand the specific nature of your mood disorder: what makes you feel better and worse, any associated physical symptoms, and a variety of other questions to get a clear picture of all elements of your health concerns.

Patients with bipolar disorder can experience very severe depression, when they are in the depressed phase of the bipolar disorder. In 2009 a double-blind, randomized trial was published showing that homeopathy was not inferior to fluoxetine (Prozac) in treating moderate to severe depression in an outpatient setting.(1)  Additionally, in that study, the fluoxetine group experienced a higher percentage of troublesome side effects than the homeopathy group.

Your homeopathic remedy can also help other aspects of your health while it improves your mood because it is working to restore overall balance. Conventional treatments for bipolar disorder or other mental illness, such as antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs, work to suppress symptoms rather than permanently correcting them. Homeopathy works differently. It stimulates the person’s innate ability to restore natural balance. For example, if the patient is not readily producing sufficient serotonin to aid in feeling happy and relaxed, homeopathic medicine may be able to modulate the production of serotonin. If there is overproduction of adrenaline resulting in anxiety, the correct homeopathic medicine can help to regulate this overproduction and normalize mood.

Most patients who seek naturopathic treatment are taking psychiatric medications, and want to reduce or eliminate these drugs. A benefit of homeopathic medicine is that it has no known interactions with medications, so it is safe to begin homeopathic treatment while in the process of tapering off existing medications, while under the care of an experienced physician. Homeopathy can also assist the person in reducing symptoms that might not be well controlled by medications, even if the patient wants to remain on medications. Also, homeopathy is safe in pregnancy and nursing and is an ideal option for children with mood disorders.

Your body is always trying to reach a healthy state of balance. Homeopathic medicine assists in this process – gently and rapidly. Most people feel a difference with 2 to 4 weeks of taking the correct homeopathic prescription. People with bipolar disorder often respond even faster, typically noticing an improvement in symptoms within a few hours to a few days. After the initial response, we reassess your progress and adjust the treatment protocol as needed.

Other Treatments

We often recommend alternatives to medications when treating people with bipolar disorder and depression, including lifestyle changes, psychological counseling, botanical medicine, acupuncture, targeted nutritional therapies, and homeopathic medicine. We find that homeopathic medicine offers the quickest and safest path to recovery from bipolar disorder and depression, when compared with other treatments.

As naturopathic doctors, we may recommend a combination of several therapies, as appropriate for each case. For people with bipolar disorder who are interested in these alternatives, it is important to consult with a physician or therapist who has expertise in the above treatment methods in order to ensure an optimal outcome, rather than the patient trying to use these therapies on their own. This is especially true if the patient is also taking medications for his or her condition.

Case Study: Ignatia for Bipolar I

A 33-year old woman with severe bipolar I, who on the first visit was in the midst of a depressive episode. She had not had a manic episode in several years, but her mania had been disabling in the past, and her depression would become severe. She was taking conventional medications – 2.5 mg of Abilify and 150 mg of Wellbutrin. She wanted to try a naturopathic approach to stabilize her moods.

She also had a history of digestive irregularities and tension headaches. When asked to describe her symptoms, the first thing she told me was that when she feels depressed, she feels a “welling up” in her throat. On further questioning, she continued to explain that it felt like a lump in her throat, with a sensation of fullness and pressure that makes her feel like she is choking. This feeling would come and go, specifically in correlation with the intensity of the sadness.

She also felt desperate and had suicidal thoughts. She was easily overwhelmed emotionally from little things and cried very easily and often, for no clear reason. She was very particular and conscientious and needed things to be a certain way or she would feel irritable. She was generally chilly and felt worse with cold weather. The depression first started after a stressful experience that left her with feelings of anger, loss and disappointment. She regularly suppressed her emotions and ignored them, as she would push on and deal with everyday life. Over time, it became impossible to suppress the anger and sadness anymore. She began to feel unstable.

The unique symptom in this case was the sensation in her throat, which was specifically associated with her depression. This symptom, along with crying easily, irritability from little things, and the emotional etiology of suppressed emotions and anger, is indicative of the homeopathic remedy Ignatia amara.

I prescribed Ignatia 6c as a daily dose and followed up in a few weeks. I also recommended a high-dose probiotic supplement and fish oil. Healthy dietary and exercise protocols were provided to help stabilize her mood. She felt great for one week after starting the remedy, but then experienced a highly stressful event. Someone at her work threatened to sue her. She stopped improving emotionally and her depression immediately returned. This kind of emotional stress, or any new physical stress, can interfere with a person’s response to their homeopathic medicine, therefore, I increased the potency of Ignatia to 30c and had her return in one month.

At her next follow up, she was feeling much better. She was no longer crying easily, and she was feeling more energetic and less irritable. The sensation of constriction and fullness in her throat was gone. Her headaches and digestion had improved as well. I had ordered thyroid testing, and with those results we discovered that her thyroid function was suboptimal, which could have been contributing to her mood disorder and digestive problems. I prescribed an herbal thyroid support supplement to stimulate her thyroid to work more efficiently and to reduce the need for thyroid medication. She is responding well to these treatments. She did not need another change to this protocol for several months, because her mood had stabilized. I expect that she will be able to taper off her conventional medications completely and enjoy a natural return to health.

Self Care

For those with bipolar disorder, the most important factors in enjoying a stable mood and energy are balanced nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.

  • Schedule regular nutritious meals to create an improvement in mood stability.
  • Take a daily dose of pharmaceutical grade omega-3 fish oil. Fish oil has been proven in multiple studies to improve mood stability in people with bipolar disorder and depression. Fish oil can be found in health food stores, or professional grade vitamins ordered by your doctor.
  • Regular exercise can have a positive impact as well. Even if you are fatigued due to depression, get some exercise. Even two minutes of exercise per day can have a positive impact on your mood and energy.  One small change at a time is the best way to achieve realistic lifestyle improvements.

Many patients with mild to moderate depression or bipolar disorder can significantly reduce symptoms with dietary changes and daily exercise alone.