Doctors used to call it manic depression. Now we know it as bipolar disorder. But whatever its name, doctors almost always treat the mood swings of this disorder with pharmaceutical drugs. And, as you may know, drugs have many possible side effects. However, if you or a loved one has this disorder, there may be another treatment that has no major side effects.
What’s more, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that this treatment works just as well as the drugs.
As you may know, bipolar causes severe mood swings, from depression to manic. These researchers discovered that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil normalize these mood swings. They studied the behavior of mice with bipolar disorder. Like people, when depressed mice with bipolar symptoms experience stress, they become manic. But when the researchers gave them DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an active ingredient in fish oil, they didn’t become manic.
The DHA had another benefit. It reduced their craving for alcohol – a known depressant. This is significant. People – and mice – with bipolar disorder love to drink alcohol.
Unlike medications used to treat bipolar disorder, omega-3 fatty acids have no major side effects. They also don’t require a prescription. And they’re safe for pregnant women or for women who are looking to become pregnant.
Bipolar isn’t the only mental illness fish oil can help. Numerous studies suggest that fish oil may delay or prevent schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. In many cases, high amounts of DHA can achieve a positive response in these illnesses.
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Fish oil has a wide range of other known benefits. These include reducing inflammation, lowering the risk for cancer, supporting heart health, and treating anxiety.
We now need some good studies on DHA and humans with bipolar disorder to learn how much of this essential fatty acid we need to get a positive response. Meanwhile, no one with this or any other mental disorder should stop their medications. It could, however, be beneficial to add two or more capsules of fish oil twice a day for its supportive nutrients. If you do, have your doctor monitor you. With his or her professional help you may be able to take fewer or no medications.
Make sure that any fish oil supplement you take is pure. The manufacturer must guarantee it has no dioxins, mercury, PCBs, or other contaminants. Researchers have found that supplements sold in both drugstores and health food stores contain a variety of toxins. Daily Omega from Advanced Bionutritionals is independently tested and verified to be free from contaminants.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Convergent functional genomic studies of omega-3 fatty acids in stress reactivity, bipolar disorder and alcoholism, H Le-Niculescu1, N J Case1 et al, Translational Psychiatry (2011) 1, e4; doi:10.1038/tp.2011.1. Published online 26 April 2011