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Supplement Mix Eases Bipolar Symptoms


WebMD Health News

Dec. 20, 2001 -- There's new evidence from a small-scale study that dietary supplements may alleviate the radical, often incapacitating mood shifts of bipolar disorder in some patients. When researchers tested their multi-ingredient mixture on 14 patients, nearly half were able to decrease or even discontinue their regular medication.

The report and an accompanying editorial appear in the December issue of Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The Canadian researchers, led by Bonnie J. Kaplan, PhD, of the University of Calgary, based their approach on the well-established notion that abnormal levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients have been associated with a host of mental and physical ailments.

In fact, bipolar disorder is typically treated with the mineral lithium, brain levels of which are off-kilter in people with the illness.

"We spent the last five years developing and testing a nutritional supplement that will help alleviate mental illness," the researchers write in a news release.

In the six-month trial, 14 patients, aged 19-46, continued on their regular medications, but also took the specially-formulated, 36-ingredient supplement mixture of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. Prior to the study, the patients had used an average of 10 different drugs to help control their symptoms, and each had been hospitalized at least once.

At regular intervals during the trial, patients took several standardized tests to measure their depression and mania symptoms. Within two weeks, most of the patients showed 50%-66% improvements in all symptoms. "In some cases," the researchers write, "the supplement replaced psychotropic medications and the patients remained well."

The only side effect complained of was nausea, which went away if patients took the supplement with food or at a lower dose.

"In view of the 50 years of experience with lithium, the notion that minerals can treat bipolar disorder is unsurprising," writes editorialist Charles W. Popper, PhD, from the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "However, the nutrient supplement studied by Kaplan and colleagues contains no lithium."

Besides being an exciting new approach to treating mental illness, the findings could have significant monetary implications, writes Popper. Even if patients were only able to reduce their standard medication by half, it would make a huge difference, given the cost of traditional psychiatric drugs compared with nutritional supplements.

Granted, the whole approach is still "in a very early stage of scientific investigation," Popper writes, and much larger, more rigorous trials are needed. But "depending on how this line of research develops, [we] may need to rethink the traditional bias against nutritional supplementation as a potential treatment for major psychiatric disorders."

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