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Can supplementing with 5-HTP help bipolar depression and/or mania?

5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) may be used to treat mild depression based on the theory that as a precursor to serotonin, the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that has a calming effect, 5-HTP can increase serotonin levels and influence mood, sleep patterns, and pain control. When serotonin levels are low, the result can be high anxiety, irritability, insomnia, impatience, and depression.

Although the studies are few, some findings show that 5-HTP supplements may help regulate mood and emotions, even comparable to some antidepressants. For instance, a small study of volunteers with anxiety disorders reported that taking supplements of 5-HTP greatly reduced levels of anxiety.

Should you take 5-HTP supplements? Talk to your doctor first because of possible adverse effects, including drug interactions with medications taken for bipolar disorder.

5-HTP alone is not an acceptable alternative to your bipolar medications.  At least in theory, increased brain serotonin levels from 5-HTP could cause or worsen mania.

What is DHEA and can it help bipolar disorder?

The body naturally produces the hormone dehydroepiandosterone (DHEA) until the mid-20s, at which point the production of DHEA declines. Advertisers claim that supplementing with DHEA may have antiaging benefits, boost mood, and improve  symptoms of depression.

In one study of patients with HIV/AIDS, DHEA supplementation was found to be better than placebo in reducing depression symptoms. In another study of patients with Addison’s disease, researchers reported improvements in both mood and fatigue after supplementation with DHEA. But, because DHEA affects hormone levels in the body, experts say more studies are necessary before recommending DHEA for use by the public.

Most studies on DHEA supplementation in healthy individuals show few side effects if the supplements are taken orally in recommended doses. DHEA is not recommended for people with abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots, or a history of liver disease. Also, do not take DHEA if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. The long-term effects of regular DHEA use are not known.

DHEA alone is not an acceptable alternative to your bipolar medications.  It has been shown to cause mania, irritability or impulsive behaviors, and may have other adverse psychiatric effects.

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