Natural treatment for bipolar disorder in children is controversial. Yet the desire to see children free from the side effects of the medications used to treat child bipolar can often set parents on a search to find an alternative.
No Natural Treatment Can Replace Mood Stablizers
The bad news is there is no natural treatment for bipolar disorder in children right now that can be used in place of what psychiatrists prescribe. The good news is there are some alternative treatments that can be used in conjunction with medications, and there is a lot of promising research being done. This page summarizes some of the natural treatment available. It is not advisable to make any decisions without the assistance of your doctor or psychiatrist. In some cases these treatments can cause mania.
Why Would Natural Treatment for Bipolar Disorder Work?
We don’t know the exact cause of child bipolar disorder. We do know that serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine play a role in all mood disorders.
Serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are neurotransmitters that help with the regulation of basic bodily functions, mood states, motor skills, alertness, arousal and motivation. Simply put, these neurotransmitters are involved in most of what we do as human beings. They help the brain function correctly. The brain makes neurotransmitters from amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It makes sense that if we can manipulate the levels of neurotransmitters, we can impact the functions that they influence. This is exactly what most of the prescribed medicines for child bipolar disorder do.
Serotonin Precursors as Natural treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Serotonin precursors are building blocks of serotonin. Studies on natural treatment for bipolar disorder have focused on how these building blocks may influence symptoms of mania and depression. Most of these studies have been on adults, not children. Below are some of the amino acids that have been studied.
This is an amino acid that produces serotonin. Studies are mixed with no conclusive evidence as to whether supplements may be helpful.
L Tryptophan first becomes 5 HTP before it is converted to serotonin. Studies have shown that some adult patients have made improvements in their depressive symptoms when they have taken 5HTP. Even more improvements were observed when taken in conjunction with an antidepressant.
Another amino acid shown to be helpful in alleviating some of the depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder, but also shown to induce mania in some adult patients. SAMe is involved in the creation of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. (Olson, Other Therapies for Bipolar Disorder- Serotonin Precursors)
B Vitamins and Folic Acid
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are a topic for research as natural treatment for bipolar disorder. Both folic acid and vitamin B12 play a role in creating neurotransmitters. A deficiency in either has been shown to be associated with depressive symptoms in adults. There are conflicting studies on folate. Some studies show deficiencies are associated with bipolar disorder, while some do not. There is no evidence that adult bipolar disorder patients have a B12 deficiency, however some studies have shown incidents of mania and depression cleared up after injections. (Olson, Other Therapies for Bipolar Disorder-B Complex Vitamins)
Research on other complex vitamins and minerals have come back mixed. Any of these possible natural treatments for bipolar disorder should only be tried only with the oversight and approval of your doctor. If you are curious that one of these therapies may be applied in conjunction with a therapy you are currently doing ask your doctor. (Olson, Other Therapies for Bipolar Disorder-B complex Vitamins)
Melatonin, Circadian Rhythms, and the suprachiasmatic nucleus
The internal clock, or suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a spot identified in the brain that controls hormones that influence our sleep/ wake cycles, alertness and arousal, and hunger. It controls our circadian rhythms.
One specific hormone that the SCN controls is melatonin. It seems that children with bipolar disorder may release melatonin at different times and in different amounts. Many children with bipolar disorder have a reverse sleep- wake cycle. We know melatonin is somehow related to this. (Weiss, October 30, 2007) Doctors I work with will sometimes suggest melatonin in addition to the medications that are already prescribed.
Light Therapy as one of the Natural treatment for Bipolar Disorder
One of the commonly observed patterns in children with bipolar disorder is cycling that occurs in conjunction with the seasons. Children with bipolar disorder will often show a decrease in energy and change in sleep patterns in the fall. There is also a sometimes a notable increase in symptoms such as irritability or anxiety in the morning, and less behavioral difficulty in the evening with the change to the fall season. In the spring this pattern in reversed.
This phenomenon appears linked to melatonin and the SCN. There is a good amount of research to suggest that light therapy can assist in some of the symptoms associated with depression, and it has been used with some children with bipolar disorder to influence sleep wake cycles and seasonal changes in mood. Light boxes, and dawn simulators have cropped up as a result of this research.
Do not attempt to use either of these without your doctor’s oversight because light boxes, although one of the natural treatment for bipolar disorder, can also cause an episode of mania. (Janice Papolos and Demitri F. Papolos, March Madness, September Slides: The Seasonal Aspects of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder, June 1995)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids as Natural treatment for Bipolar Disorder
In 1999 Dr Andrew Stoll did a study from which he concluded that Omega 3 Fatty acids (as a supplement) improved the outcome for bipolar disordered adults. Omega 3s are essential fatty acids, they are necessary for the brain to work correctly, but they can’t be manufactured in the body.
In our body we have both omega 3’s and omega 6’s and they have opposite effects when it comes to our cells. Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and Omega 6’s are pro-flammatory. Over time human beings have been ingesting less and less omega 3’s. This is due to the creation of hydrogenated oil which reduces omega 3 and omega 6, and the fact that we are eating less healthy fish and fish that is not wild. Omega 3’s are found in flaxseed, walnuts, green vegetables, and oily fish. Omega 3 Keeps the cell membranes in the brain fluid and has a role in regulating mood.
DHA, EPA, and LNA are three omega 3 fatty acids that are important in regulating mood. Somehow these omega threes act in a similar way to lithium and the anticonvulsants. Unfortunately we don’t know what ratios or dosages of DHA to EPA are necessary. There is evidence that Omega 3’s have helped to re mediate some of the symptoms of depression in adults and also some symptoms of schizophrenia. However, studies also found that once an ideal dose was exceeded the effects were not as good, and we don’t know what the ideal dosage is for each person.
A recent study by Beiderman looked at omega 3 as one of the natural treatment for bipolar disorder. His study demonstrated an improvement in mania in some children when taking Omega 3 ( OMEGABRITE) but further research about dosing needs to be done. The FDA has approved 3 grams a day of fish oil ( Omega 3) as safe for both adults and children. There is a small possibility of mania due to omega 3 and it should only be done with doctor oversight. (Janice Papolos and Demitri F. Papolos, The A-Z's of Omega -3's, Spring, 2001 Vol.7)
In my experience, psychiatrists have been willing to try supplements of omega 3 and melatonin as well as other natural treatment for bipolar disorder such as light box and dawn simulators in conjunction with mood stabilizer they have prescribed. These appear to be the treatments with the most convincing evidence.
How to go about discussing natural treatment for your bipolar child with your psychiatrist
A good way to do that is to be sure to review the criticism of that research as well. Bipolar disorder in children is a treatable but difficult and complex disorder that requires interventions at many levels.
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