Can bipolar disorder be treated with "natural" remedies?

Mona A. Schulz, MD
Acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbs, nutritional supplements, Yoga, massage, Chi Gung, and mindfulness meditation among others have all been proven scientifically to help mood disorders. However, these treatments should only be one aspect of your psychiatric and psychological team's approach to the treatment of bipolar disorder.
  • DHA 100-3400 mg/day, a specific type of Omega-3 fatty acid, has been shown to stabilize the mood of some people with bipolar II. DHA balances excessive nerve firing in a way similar to Lithium and Valproic Acid without the higher risk these medicines pose to the liver, kidney, thyroid, and bone marrow. Studies show that people with problems with anger, aggression, and depression (often diagnosed as bipolar disorder II) have lower Omega-3 fatty acid levels. You have to be careful taking DHA with aspirin, garlic, ginkgo biloba, and other medicines because it can increase a tendency toward bleeding. So when you want to try any herb or nutritional supplement, please check with you medical team and pharmacist to make sure there will be no adverse effects.
  • Inositol 12-20 grams may also improve mood disorders since like DHA, lithium, and other mood stabilizers; it affects the nerve cell's internal signaling machinery.
There are a variety of other herbal mood stabilizers for depression, moodiness, and irritability, but once again, check with your medical team to see if they are safe for you to take.
  • Chasteberry (Vitex agnus castus), Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) all act as antidepressants and are especially helpful to moodiness that's aggravated by the hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle and perimenopause.
  • Magnesium citrate (900-2500mg/day) supplementation stabilizes mood in some individuals, although at low or high levels it can predispose you to depression. Magnesium may be a mood stabilizer because it is important for electrical stability of cell membranes, including nerve cells.
  • Calcium citrate or carbonate (900-4100 mg/day) may also stabilize the mood in some women, especially moodiness made worse by hormonal cycles. And, like magnesium, low or high calcium levels can lead to depression.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Depending on the severity of the disorder, the patient’s beliefs and cultural norms, etc. there may be alternative treatments that may assist in the treatment of Bi-Polar D/O.

Keith Star
The FDA has not approved any "natural remedies" for bipolar disorder.
Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
Natural remedies cannot treat bipolar disorder. Still, you need to adopt some healthy lifestyle habits to keep your mood episodes from escalating. Most important with bipolar I and bipolar II disorders is to stop using alcohol and illicit drugs. Many people with depression, hypomania, or mania depend on "self-medicating" their symptoms with drugs and alcohol. While this may mask the symptoms temporarily, at some point the drugs and alcohol no longer work. Or, the drugs and alcohol can cause you to engage in risky behaviors, such as sexual indiscretions, spending sprees, and financial investments, that are unwise when you have a bipolar mania high. Talk to your doctor about quitting drug abuse and drinking alcohol. Then, focus on natural ways to get healthy, such as eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep. Quality sleep is important with bipolar disorder and can help you manage your mood.
Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
My answer below addresses supplements as natural remedies. (Exercise, breathing, acupuncture, homeopathic and herbal treatments are another topic.)
The first step is to define the words "natural" and "remedy" regarding bipolar disorder treatment. Most people define "natural" as a non-synthetic product. "Remedy" can be defined as a supplement people take in order to manage an illness or imbalance in the body. 
It’s common to assume that a naturally occurring remedy is safer than a synthetic, has fewer side effects and is harmless in terms of bipolar disorder. It’s normal to think this way. Unfortunately, it’s not true. Naturally occurring supplements (bought over the counter) can be just as problematic as synthetic drugs. I know, because I have tried as many of them as I could find!
What about the proprietary blend supplements? There are products advertising under brand names that claim they can end bipolar disorder symptoms. Maybe they can for some, but if you go to their websites, you will be hard pressed to find any documentation of their success. I tried one of the most famous of these supplements and was psychotic within a week. When I called the helpline I was told, “We have never had this problem. It must be you.” I learned later that the supplements have caused mania and depression in others.
I’m now very, very careful.
There are also easy to obtain amino acids that can be detrimental such as 5-HTP, a serotonin booster that creates mania, just as a manufactured serotonin antidepressant can cause mania. One is natural and one is synthetic and they both have the risk of mania. More examples: St. John’s Wort can cause mania as can the amino acid N.A.C. (N-acetyl cysteine.)
And finally, the most dangerous of all in my option are the steroids. Whether they are natural or not- they can lead to severe mood swings including depression and suicidal thoughts. I know this from experience.
I am not trying to knock natural supplement remedies. I simply want to encourage caution. Relatively few natural health care practitioners have specific experience in bipolar disorder management. If you can find someone who does, using natural remedies makes more sense.
PS: I have used homeopathic remedies for many years. My nurse practitioner is an expert in bipolar disorder management, so we are both careful to watch for symptoms when we try a remedy. I still take my medications faithfully.
Mark Moronell, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
There is not much research to show whether natural or alternative remedies help control bipolar disorder, and they may interfere with treatment. In fact, St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), an herb often marketed as an antidepressant, may trigger a switch to mania and make other medications for bipolar disease less effective. The evidence is mixed for the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish and other foods. Talk to your doctor before using any treatment that he or she has not prescribed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.