Bipolar disorder (BPD) causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and ability to function, both mentally and physically. Most cases require long-term treatment using medication and therapy. Investigation is underway to see what nutritional factors influence BPD. One such factor is omega-3 fatty acids, known for optimizing brain health because they are components of brain cell membranes. These membranes allow the passage of important messenger molecules in and out of the cell.
At the Brain Imaging Center at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, researchers investigated what changes might happen to brain membrane composition and fluidity with omega-3 fatty acids. The more fluid the membrane, the better it can transmit chemical messengers. In their study, 12 women with BPD received omega-3 fatty acids for four weeks. The women’s brain membranes were compared to those of nine women with BPD and 12 women without BPD who were not taking omega-3s. The researchers found omega-3s did impact membrane fluidity favourably, and that results were improved with higher doses of omega-3s.
In another study from Harvard Medical School in Boston, researchers found omega-3s may benefit BPD in the same way as two conventional treatments, lithium carbonate and valporate. Researchers wanted to know if omega-3s had mood-stabilizing benefits for BPD. Thirty patients with BPD participated in this four-month study, comparing omega-3s to a placebo. After the study, the results showed the omega-3 group had a significantly longer period of remission than the placebo group, and for nearly every other symptom, the omega-3 group performed better than the placebo group. The researchers concluded omega-3 fatty acids were well tolerated and could improve the short-term course of BPD.
Sources: Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Oct;161(10):1922-4; Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1999 May;56(5):407-12