Guest Post By Becky Wilcox
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness characterized by episodes of mania and depression.
During the manic phase, patients exhibit reckless behavior and poor judgment, excitability, and agitation. Patients could also experience emotional outbursts, extreme insomnia, and several other symptoms.
During the depressed phase, patients exhibit sleep disturbances, loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities, and loss of self-esteem. Patients can also experience suicidal thoughts, isolation from friends and family, and extreme sadness.
Many patients try to control their symptoms with dietary supplements, like omega-3 fatty acids, but bipolar disorder can’t be controlled by diet and supplements alone.
The best solution is a combination of diet, therapy, and prescription medication.
Early treatments for bipolar disorder relied on drugs like lithium, Depakote (valproic acid), and a class of drugs called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). These early drugs had a lot of side-effects and restrictions that made taking them akin to playing Russian roulette.
People on lithium could not take ibuprofen because the combination would cause a toxic rise in lithium blood levels. Lithium also damages the thyroid, and prolonged use can contribute to thyroid disease.
People on Depakote, were cautioned not to take aspirin because the combination could cause stomach ulcers. And certain antibiotics would render the drug less effective.
People on MAOIs were cautioned to avoid several foods that contained a substance called tyramine, because they caused elevated blood pressure. These foods included aged cheeses, fava and green beans, soy products, and liver. Some sources also recommended removing yogurt, avocados, and raspberries from the diet. Many of these foods provide essential vitamins and nutrients.
Newer bipolar drugs still have side effects, but they don’t have nearly as many dietary restrictions. With some, like Effexor, the manufacturers recommend that you do not consume alcohol while taking the drug. With other drugs, like Abilify, the manufacturers indicate that certain drugs could intensify drowsiness. However, unlike lithium and aspirin, these are not potentially life-threatening contraindications.
If you have been living with a bipolar diagnosis for several years, chances are you were initially diagnosed one of the older medications. It is also likely that, over the course of your treatment, your doctor has adjusted your dosage, and even changed your medication to one of the newer drugs.
If you are still taking one of the older medications, consider talking to your doctor about changing. You can only buy Abilify, and other bipolar medications, with a prescription, so you will need your doctor’s approval to change drugs.
Use caution, however, because not all bipolar drugs are the same. Different drugs work on different brain chemicals, and changing could disrupt your treatment. If your symptoms are well-controlled with your current medication, it would be best not to alter your routine.
But if your current medication is not controlling your symptoms, or if you are unhappy with your treatment for other reasons, you might benefit from changing medication.
Do not attempt to stop taking your medication without your doctor’s knowledge or supervision. Not only will your symptoms worsen, but some medications have serious withdrawal effects.
If you do change medications, you might have to wean off your current medication before you start the new. During the weaning period you could experience a worsening of your symptoms, including suicidal tendencies. If you notice any change in your condition, contact your physician immediately.
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