Menu

Alternative Therapies for Bipolar Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 01, 2020

If you have bipolar disorder, the best treatment usually is a combination of medication and talk therapy. But many alternative therapies also may ease the symptoms of this lifelong condition and make you feel better.

In fact, good nutrition, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and other steps may help prevent relapses.

Lifestyle Changes

Eat healthy foods. We know that omega-3 fatty acids are important for your brain to work right. And researchers have found a link between low levels of vitamin D and B vitamins in people with depression. They also think that eating a well-balanced diet may benefit people with bipolar disorder by giving you a better sense of control of your life. So eat a variety of foods, including whole grains, lots of fresh produce, lean meats, and salmon, tuna, and other fish with heart-healthy fats. Ask your doctor if you should take supplements.

Get enough sleep. This can be a challenge with bipolar disorder. You may sleep very little during a manic phase and barely get out of bed when you’re depressed. Lack of sleep can trigger a mood change. Getting enough ZZZs help both your mental and physical health.

A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy may help with insomnia and lower the number of episodes of mania.

You may sleep better if you:

  • Aim for 8 hours and go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Keep your room comfortable and dark.
  • Avoid screen time before turning in and instead take a bath, read, or do other relaxing activities.
  • Avoid large meals close to bedtime.

Get moving. Studies show exercise may ease your depression symptoms, improve your quality of life, and help you carry on with your day-to-day routine. But exercising too often or too hard may lead to mania. More research is needed to better understand the role of physical activity in bipolar disorder.

Mind and Body Practices

These are also called complementary or alternative therapies that you can add to traditional treatments such as medication.

Meditation. This may calm and relax your mind and can boost your concentration, lower your blood pressure, and curb anxiety.

Studies suggest that combining a meditation practice with cognitive-based mindfulness therapy (CBMT) can improve your depression symptoms and make you less anxious. Doing just CBMT can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression and help you control your feelings. Doing just meditation sessions may help ease feelings of helplessness or hopelessness common in bipolar disorder.

Acupuncture. This can reduce stress and improve circulation and well-being. Acupuncture is generally safe when done by an experienced professional who uses sterile needles.

Acupuncture has been studied for psychiatric disorders including depression and PTSD, but the results are mixed. More studies are needed to know if it can benefit people with bipolar disorder.

Supplements

It’s usually best to get your vitamins and minerals from foods. Ask your doctor if supplements might help with your bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Studies show that two specific kinds of omega-3s -- eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) -- may lower symptoms of depression.

Vitamin D. A study in the Netherlands found that people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder were almost five times more likely than others to lack enough vitamin D. Another study found that taking 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily improved symptoms of mania and depression in youth. Getting checked every year for vitamin D will tell you whether you have enough. The best sources of vitamin D are sunlight, fatty fish like salmon, and fish liver oil supplements.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). This is used by your body to build antioxidants such as vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can protect and repair cells from damage. NAC supplements of 1 gram taken twice a day reduced symptoms of depression and improved how people function and their quality of life. NAC also improved depression symptoms in another study. But more research is needed to know for sure.

Choline, chromium, magnesium, and tryptophan. These may improve brain health and ease symptoms of mania. More studies are needed to confirm the findings.

What to Watch For

St. John’s wort. This herb is often used to treat depression. But it’s usually not recommended for bipolar disorder because it may lead to episodes of mania. St. John’s wort also may interact with your antidepressants.

Folate/folic acid. If you take anticonvulsant drugs for your bipolar disorder, it can drop the levels of the vitamin folate in your body. But folate/folic acid supplements in turn can interfere with the effects of anticonvulsants.

Always let your doctor know about any supplements you’re taking or considering.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Psychiatric Times: “Integrative Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Recommendations.”

Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.”

Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Omega-3 for bipolar disorder: meta-analyses of use in mania and bipolar depression.”

Psychopharmacological Bulletin: “Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in mood disorders - a systematic review and metanalysis.”

Journal of Affective Disorders: “The efficacy of N-acetylcysteine as an adjunctive treatment in bipolar depression: an open label trial,” “Exercise in bipolar patients: A systematic review,” “The effects of physical activity in the acute treatment of bipolar disorder: a pilot study.”

Biological Psychiatry: “N-acetyl cysteine for depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder--a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial.”

Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology: “Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency in Adult Outpatients With Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia.”

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin D Factsheet for Health Professionals,” “Folate Fact-sheet for Health Professionals.”

Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology: “Vitamin D3 Supplemental Treatment for Mania in Youth with Bipolar Spectrum Disorders.”

Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: “Nutrient-based therapies for bipolar disorder: a systematic review.”

Psychiatry: “Mania and Psychosis Associated with St. John's Wort and Ginseng.”

Current Behavior Neuroscience Reports: “Physical Exercise for Treatment of Mood Disorders: A Critical Review.”

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: “Treating insomnia improves mood state, sleep, and functioning in bipolar disorder: a pilot randomized controlled trial.”

Sleep Science: “Relationship between sleep quality and quality of life in patients with bipolar disorder.”

Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy: “Meditation for treating adults with bipolar disorder II: A multi-city study.”

CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics: “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for nonremitted patients with bipolar disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Yoga: Fight stress and find serenity.”

International Journal of Yoga: “Role of Yoga and Mindfulness in Severe Mental Illnesses: A Narrative Review.”

Medicine: “Efficacy and safety of acupuncture in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.”

National Institutes of Health, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Anxiety and Complementary Health Approaches: What the Science Says.”

Psychiatria Polska: “Is diet important in bipolar disorder?”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info