Bipolar Disorder: Tips from Experts on Managing Your Highs and Lows

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that can disrupt daily activities and personal relationships. Learn from experts on how you can manage BD.

A beautiful white woman smiling in the city holding a cup of coffee

Bipolar disorder (BD), formerly known as manic depression, is characterized by extreme mood swings. Those who suffer from BP often show signs of mania or hypomania (intense emotional highs) and/or extreme lows (severe depression).

There is no cure for BD, but it’s manageable by doing talk therapy, medication, and by making lifestyle changes.

This article offers tips from experts on recognizing the symptoms and managing the condition with natural herbs and daily practices that complement your medication.

Bipolar Disorder, According to TCM

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, BD is a result of liver qi-stagnation, phlegm-heat, liver and heart fire, blood stasis, deficiency of any one or a combination of 2 or more of the 5 vital viscera – liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys.

BD can have a combination of depressive and manic manifestations, hence it is be classified as Dian Kuang (癫狂) in TCM, which is directly translated as “depression and mania”.

Dian indicates a depressive state, such as indifference, being withdrawn, worry, unresponsiveness, incoherent speech, quiet and taciturnity. Kuang indicates agitation, shouting, scolding and hitting people, irritability, aggressive behavior, offensive speech, and inappropriate laughter. It may also lead to singing, climbing high places, wild behavior, smashing objects, unusual physical strength, and refusing sleep and food.

What are the Early Signs of Bipolar Disorder?

There are a few signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect that you or someone you know may have bipolar disorder.

Mania: Feeling overly happy or “high” for a few days or several months is a symptom of mania. This condition can cause hyper-high energy, trouble focusing or paying attention, restlessness or impulsiveness, as well as overconfidence. Often, people with BD develop risky behaviors (i.e., impulsive sex, gambling, and spending sprees).

Depression: Another face of BD is depression. BD-related depression may trigger sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in usual activities, and withdrawal from friends and family. Other symptoms are a significant change in appetite, severe fatigue or lack of energy, substantial memory, concentration, or decision-making problems.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) reports two significant types of BD. Bipolar I disorder (BD I) is categorized by the presence of at least one manic episode. In comparison, Bipolar II disorder (BD II) is characterized by at least one episode of hypomania with depression.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it’s a manageable condition with proper treatments and lifestyle practices.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Managed with Natural Supplements?

A man holding medication for bipolar disorder and a glass of water.
Natural supplements, in addition to your prescribed medications, may help you manage the symptoms more effectively.

Some studies support the use of dietary and natural remedies and supplements as adjuncts in the management of BD. However, it’s important to discuss an appropriate medication and treatment plan with your doctor. To get the best outcome, make sure your doctor is aware of all the herbal or dietary supplements you may be taking, as some may react adversely with your treatment.

Senior TCM practitioner at Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, Brandon Yew, also recommends that before taking alternative medicines, you should work with your doctor to determine the correct Western medications to take for fast-acting relief from symptoms.

Nutrient Options: Some nutrients that people use to help supplement their BD treatment are anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, vitamin C, and possibly folic acid.

Acupuncture for bipolar disorder

Illustration of five acupoints to help bipolar disorder symptoms. shen men, tai chong, zu san li, bai hui, da ling
Whenever you are, stimulating these acupoints may help you cope better with bipolar disorder symptoms.

Physician Yew suggests that other alternative treatments that may help manage symptoms include acupuncture/acupressure, moxibustion, cupping, and massage.

Acupressure is a simple self-help remedy that anyone can do at home. Placing fingers or an object like a massage roller at targeted acupoints may help relieve symptoms of BD.

He adds the following acupoints to help cope with BD symptoms: Shen Men (HT 7) located on the wrist; Zu San Li (ST 36) on the lower leg; and Tai Chong (LR 3) on the dorsum of the foot. Moreover, massaging these acupoints can also help – Da Ling (PC7) in the midpoint of the transverse crease of the wrist, between the 2 tendons of the anterior aspect of the forearm, and Bai Hui (DU20) on the top of the head, along the midline of the human body, approximately on the midpoint of the line connecting the apexes of the two ears. 

Massage these acupoints in a circular motion 20 times each. You can do this every time you feel a bit restless.

Natural supplements that promote emotional balance

Many people with BD use natural supplements in addition to their prescribed medication to help manage their symptoms. It’s important to speak with your doctor first before taking a new supplement. This is to ensure that there will be no interaction between medications. It’s also important to get your supplements from credible sources. This precaution will reduce your risk of using products containing contaminants or toxic ingredients.

In the U.S., many commonly take fish oil, melatonin, vitamin B, and multivitamins with BD medications. Some of the most common herbs taken in TCM that help to keep the condition under control are magnetite, nacre, ossa draconis, oyster shell, poria, Chinese thorowax root, red sage root, polygala root, and lily bulb.

Natural supplements can be safe, but there are some herbs to take note of. Physician Yew says:

Danshen root (red sage root) must be taken with caution for those who are suffering from bleeding disorders or under blood-thinning medications.

● Magnetite, nacre, ossa draconis, oyster shell, and polygala root are not suitable for those with gastric problems or weak digestion.

As with any new regimen, it’s best to not self-medicate. Consult your doctor before taking any new supplements. It is advisable that natural remedies should be used as an adjunct to Western medicine in BD, and be taken under the supervision of your health practitioner.

Lifestyle tips and managing bipolar disorder with diet and exercise

Two women eating salad and fruits on a healthy diet after a workout
Diet and exercise can help you live a balanced life, especially when living with bipolar disorder.

It is possible to improve your management of BD symptoms with a healthy, balanced diet and exercise. A 2013 study reports that adults who participate in nutrition, wellness, and exercise programs have positive results and a reduction in their BD symptoms over time. Additionally, the overall health of the study participants also improved.

The basic recommendation for exercise/physical activity for adults is 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week and two to three 20-30 minute strength-building sessions a week.

A balanced diet includes five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, and saying no to highly-processed foods, and red and processed meats.

Dr. Erika Saunders, Director of the Mood Disorder Program at Penn State College of Medicine, and her team of researchers conducted a study that investigated whether making dietary changes could alter mood stability and improve mood variability for people with BD. The experimental diet lowered intake of omega-6 fatty acids by limiting consumption of red meat, eggs, and certain oils (saturated fats), and increasing omega-3 fatty acid consumption from flaxseed and fatty fishes like tuna and salmon. After 12 weeks the researchers concluded that although it is premature to say for sure that the diet is beneficial, the study indicates that “a dietary intervention adjunctive to usual care may help with the usual treatment of BD and help to stabilize mood changes.”

Living Life and Creating Happiness with Bipolar Disorder

It is possible to live a happy and fulfilled life with BD, and other mental illnesses. Practicing sensible self-care while upgrading your lifestyle habits with prescribed therapy and medication can help your condition progress. It’s time to take the control back and make sure there are no potential negative interactions between the various therapies.

References

  1. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 2015. Diagnosis and treatment of patients with bipolar disorder: A review for advanced practice nurses. [Accessed 8 November 2021]
  2. Int J Bipolar Disord. 2015. Common use of dietary supplements for bipolar disorder: a naturalistic, self-reported study. [Accessed 8 November 2021]
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016. CDC – sleep hygiene tips – sleep and sleep disorders. [Accessed 8 November 2021]
  4. Bipolar Disorders, an International Journal of Psychiatry and Neurosciences. 2021. Adjunctive dietary intervention for bipolar disorder: a randomized, controlled, parallel-group, modified double-blinded trial of a high n-3 plus low n-6 diet  [Accessed 15 November 2021]

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