Probiotics May Help Treat Bipolar Disorder

About 3 million people in the US are diagnosed every year with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric condition characterized by dramatic shifts in mood from depression to mania. Currently, the standard treatment includes a combination of psychotherapy and prescription medications such as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

However, an emerging field of research is exploring the use of probiotics — often thought of as “good bacteria” — as a potential new avenue for treatment of bipolar and other psychiatric mood disorders. And a new study from Baltimore’s Sheppard Pratt Health System, conducted by a research team led by Faith Dickerson, finds that a probiotic supplement may reduce inflammation of the gut, which is known to exacerbate bipolar disorder. Probiotic organisms are non-pathogenic bacteria that, when present in the gut flora, are known to improve the overall health of the host.

In recent years, research has demonstrated a strong link between the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. This connection, named the “gut-brain axis” (GBA), allows for crosstalk between the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous systems. The GI tract is also home to the intestinal microbiome, a complex population of roughly 100 trillion microorganisms (more than ten times the number of cells that make up the human body) that interacts with the mucosal lining of the GI tract. Studies have shown that the intimate association between the gut microbiome and GI tissue has a significant effect on the GBA.

There is also mounting evidence linking imbalances in the microbial species that make up the gut microbiome to a number of health problems including allergies, autoimmune disorders, and psychiatric mood disorders.

In the case of bipolar disorder and the GBA, previous studies have shown that inflammation, or overstimulation of the body’s immune system, is a contributing factor in the disease. With this in mind, researchers developed a probiotic supplement aimed at reducing inflammation caused by microbial imbalances in the gut.

A group of patients recently hospitalized for mania participated in a 6-month study to track the effects of probiotic treatment on both their mood and the status of their immune system.

The patients were randomly selected to receive either the

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A picture of a milk bottle, a measuring cup, and a yogurt cup. Credit to flickr.com user Gabriel Li. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

probiotic supplement or a placebo in addition to their usual medications. The results showed that the group receiving the probiotic supplement, on average, didn’t return to the hospital as quickly and required less in-patient treatment time compared to the placebo group. The beneficial effects were most pronounced in those patients who exhibited abnormally high levels of inflammation at the beginning of the study.
Overall, these results indicate that changes in intestinal inflammation can alter the trajectory of psychiatric mood disorders and that modulating the intestinal microbiota may be a new avenue of treatment for patients suffering from these diseases.

Materials provided by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

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National Prevention Week: How I Prevent Oncoming Bipolar Mood Episodes

The week of May 12-18 is National Prevention Week, so I’d like to talk about how I try to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. Because I was diagnosed at twenty-two and started medication and therapy, I have a decade’s worth of experience in managing my bipolar disorder. Read on for a roadmap discussing how to tackle the prevention of mania and depression head on.

Fight Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when you have absorbed the negative, inaccurate messages about your mental illness around you. This affects your perception of your mental illness and your need to treat it, which in turn affects your behaviors and actions in terms of seeking treatment. In order to face taking medication every day for the rest of your life, you need to fight stigma, especially self-stigma. The way I fought it was to recognize that I needed to be my best self for my newborn son, which entailed taking medications and going to therapy. I needed to treat my disorder so I could properly mother my son. It wasn’t just about me.

If you have a reason outside of yourself, awesome, but if you don’t, you still deserve treatment. You are better than your disease. You are a human being, a precious individual. Caring for yourself, especially in the pit of depression, is one of the hardest issues you’ll ever face. But you deserve proper care, even if it’s mostly self-care for a while.

Medication

I can’t recommend medication enough. In combination with therapy, medications saved my life. When I was first diagnosed, Depakote toned down my psychotic mania, and two years later, lithium lifted me from the black sucking hole of suicidal depression. Now I’m on Risperidone and Wellbutrin, and the combination has enabled me to be stable for over six years. Taking my medication daily has prevented the dizzying spin of mania and the pit of depression. Part of this is my fighting self-stigma, as I said above.

Therapy

Another tactic that has helped me remain stable for the past half-decade is attending counseling sessions with my therapist. Therapy has helped me learn coping mechanisms to handle my day-to-day life, including emergencies. I’ve been able to treat my manic and depressive episodes, and learn how to flourish. I am thriving, and I wouldn’t have thrived so successfully without those weekly appointments with my therapist.

Sleep

Proper sleep is crucial for managing your bipolar disorder. Sleep disturbances trigger bipolar mood episodes, especially mania, and too much sleep triggers the crash of depression–usually following mania. Problems with sleep are a common symptom of bipolar disorder; in a future post, I’ll be looking at how common insomnia is for this specific mental illness.

To ensure I sleep as well as I can, I practice what’s called good sleep hygiene. I don’t drink water or caffeinated beverages right before bed. I wind down before bed, taking a bath every night. I wake up every morning at 8:30am, if not earlier. I try to go to bed at the same time. I wake up frequently in the middle of the night with a racing mind, but I try to calm myself by praying or meditating. Generally, that works, and I’m able to get back to sleep within fifteen to thirty minutes; I recognize that I am lucky in that manner. Try to practice good sleep hygiene, and you, too, might be able to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes.

jessi RM
A picture of a smiling woman next to a frowning woman, in black and white. Credit to fliclr.com user Jessi RM. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Final Thoughts

Fighting self-stigma, getting proper treatment for your disease (including medication and therapy), and sleeping properly are some of the best ways to prevent oncoming bipolar mood episodes. If you’re looking for a post on how to manage the most common bipolar triggers, click here.

You can do this.

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Substance Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

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

Sometimes, the symptoms of bipolar disorder–including periods of elevated mood, depression, and irritability–are too difficult to deal with. Often, people turn to drugs and alcohol to try to cope.

“Some people attempt to treat symptoms of their mental illness with substances, but substance abuse can activate or prolong symptoms,” Marissa Krick, a writer for DrugRehab.com, said in an email.

Krick cited studies saying that up to 60 percent of people who suffer from bipolar disorder confess that they’ve also abused drugs or alcohol. People who suffer symptoms of acute mania or bipolar II disorder are significantly more likely to abuse benzodiazepine and alcohol than people who suffer from depression, according to the Zurich Cohort Study. In addition, a history of substance abuse complicates recovery from acute manic states.

The writers at DrugRehab.com have penned an extensive report on substance abuse in conjunction with bipolar disorder. It’s worth a read. According to the report, “Substance abuse makes symptoms of bipolar disorder worse and decreases the benefits of standard treatment. People tend to take longer to recover, spend more time in health facilities and be more likely to contemplate suicide when they misuse substances during treatment.”

But there is hope. Rehabilitation facilities can treat both substance abuse and bipolar disorder concurrently. Treatment for substance abuse starts with a detoxification process, whereas treatment for bipolar disorder involves medication and behavioral therapy. Patients going through drug or alcohol withdrawal are kept as comfortable as possible.

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