Does Inflammation Cause Bipolar Disorder?

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A rope-wrapped, rusty pipe bent at an angle with small nails driven into it. Credit to flickr.com user jurek d. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Inflammation, or swelling, is a very important medical condition that affects many parts of our bodies, including our brains. It’s the body’s protective response to infection. In some autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, the body’s immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there are no bacteria or viruses to fight off. This means that the immune system damages normal, healthy tissues, as if they are somehow infected.

But what does all of this mean for bipolar disorder? Several things, actually.

A 2013 study conducted in Denmark posits that mood disorders could be the brain’s response to inflammation. Researchers found that people who suffered from an autoimmune disease were a whopping 45% more likely to develop a mood disorder. The report found that people who were treated for inflammation also had improved moods, and that the effectiveness of antidepressants in these people increased.

Similarly, a 2011 study in the Journal of Neuroinflammation found that high levels of quinolinic acid, a byproduct of inflammation, are associated with suicidal tendencies and chronic depression.

Even lithium,  the gold standard in treating bipolar disorder, might have anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. No one knows exactly how the drug works, but recent studies point towards lithium reducing inflammation.

Similarly, there is some evidence that other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen may improve the effect of bipolar medications, at least in bipolar depression. Mania doesn’t seem to be impacted.

All of this is interesting news, but the causal link between bipolar disorder and inflammation has yet to be fully established. No one knows if inflammation causes bipolar disorder or if bipolar disorder causes inflammation. And mania doesn’t seem to be affected at all, just depression, and no one knows why. There are several possible causes of bipolar disorder, ranging from genetics to environment to childhood trauma. The true causes of bipolar disorder are multi-factorial, meaning that there are many reasons why you might develop the psychiatric condition. Inflammation is just another piece of the puzzle.

So the answer to the question of whether inflammation causes bipolar disorder is a solid maybe. Inflammation is related to bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses, but no one knows exactly how yet. While reducing inflammation is generally a good idea to promote optimum health, it won’t cure your bipolar disorder.

Ways to reduce inflammation include taking turmeric capsules, eating a healthy diet including plenty of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and getting plenty of exercise. Talk to your doctor before engaging in any dietary change or embarking on an exercise program.

I wish you luck in your journey.

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People with a Family History of Bipolar Disorder Have Reduced Planning Ability

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Credit to flickr.com user Sonja Alves. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

According to a new study published in Scientific Reports, people with a family history of bipolar disorder have reduced prefrontal cortex activity. One of the primary functions of the prefrontal cortex is to plan a person’s response to complex and difficult problems.

Examining a total of a 144 Japanese people–93 with psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder, and 51 healthy controls–the researchers found significant prefrontal cortex dysfunction in those with family histories of mental health issues, compared to healthy controls and people with illnesses without family histories of them.

The scientists used near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), a functional neuroimaging technology, to measure prefrontal cortex activation during a verbal fluency test. During the test, the study subjects were instructed to come up with as many nouns as possible that start with a Japanese hiragana letter (‘a’, ‘ki’, and ‘ha’, each for 20 seconds). In the pre- and post-task intervals, patients were instructed to pronounce English vowels repeatedly.

This is the first study to focus on family histories of mental illnesses when measuring prefrontal cortex activity. The scientists hope that more studies investigating genetic factors underlying major psychiatric disorders and prefrontal activation will be conducted.

Citation:

Ohi, K. et al. Impact of Familial Loading on Prefrontal Activation in Major Psychiatric Disorders: A Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) Study. Sci. Rep. 7, 44268; doi: 10.1038/srep44268 (2017).

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People At-Risk for Bipolar Disorder May Age Faster

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Credit to flickr.com user Zeiss Microscopy. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

People at-risk for bipolar disorder may age faster, according to a study by Timothy R Powell, Danai Dima, Sophia Frangou, and Gerome Breen. The findings were published in Neuropsychopharmacology, a scientific journal.

 

Telomeres are DNA repeat structures (TTAGGG) at the end of chromosomes. When telomeres are critically shortened, cell death occurs, which makes these structures a biomarker for aging. Lifestyle changes, cellular stressors, and social adversity all contribute to telomere shortening.

Shorter telomere length is associated with cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, and age-related memory dysfunction. Telomere length is associated with the hippocampus, a sea-horse-shaped brain region which controls inhibition and emotion, and helps contribute to episodic memory.

Previous studies have shown reduced telomere length in schizophrenia, dementia, and major depressive disorder. But with regards to bipolar disorder, however, studies have demonstrated both reduced and increased telomere length in patients compared to healthy controls.

According to the Powell study, patients with bipolar disorder taking lithium have longer telomeres. The researchers used DNA sampling as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) of close relatives to bipolar disorder sufferers to determine whether people with the illness age faster.

The scientists found that lithium has a protective effect on telomere length, whereas other medications, such as antidepressants, don’t. Also, the relatives of patients with bipolar disorder had significantly shorter telomeres than healthy volunteers.

This is the first study to demonstrate a link between shorter telomere length and relatives with bipolar disorder. Understanding telomere biology may lead to therapies to maintain telomere length or reverse the shortening process, which means slower aging. Studying the effect of lithium on telomeres may also contribute to further psychological medications which can help patients who suffer from bipolar disorder.

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