Bipolar Medication May Help Restore Normal Brain Function

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Bipolar Medication Uncapped amber medication bottle and tablets

It’s no secret that medication can make all the difference to a person who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. While natural treatment including diet, exercise and regular visits to a Newport Beach psychiatrist are extremely beneficial, sometimes the patient does need medication for the most effective management of the disorder. Now, a new review is being conducted to see if common medications for bipolar disorder can actually help restore the brain function to a normative state.

During the review process, the researchers have looked at the ways that lithium, mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medication and antidepressant medications affect the brain of those affected by bipolar disorder. They have noted that advances in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) analyses over the last several decades have led to the identification of neuroanatomical abnormalities in a range of mental disorders. In other words, we are now better able to see exactly how certain medications impact the bipolar brain.

Bipolar disorder can cause significant suffering and disability, but most patients can be treated successfully with mood stabilizing medication like valproate or lithium. Sometimes antipsychotic or antidepressant medication is administered during bipolar episodes or particularly stressful times in the person’s life.

We already know a lot about the bipolar brain. MRI studies comparing patients with bipolar disorder and healthy volunteers have shown that there are subtle grey matter volume deficits in bipolar patients, especially in brain regions that regulate mood. However, researchers note that many studies present considerable diversity in their findings. This proves that there is still much to learn.

Upon further investigations, the researchers observed that different uses of psychopharmacological treatment was associated with alterations in neuroanatomy. In studies with larger sample sizes, bipolar medications truly appear to help restore brain anatomy to a more normative state. This includes evidence that use of mood stabilizers such as lithium is associated with increased grey matter volume.

So what does this mean, exactly? It could simply mean what we’ve suspected all along, that bipolar disorder medications are truly beneficial to the bipolar brain rather than just covering up symptoms or helping the patient function. Restoring normal brain function and alleviating the problem is certainly better than putting a Band Aid on a much bigger problem.

But it also means that we are just beginning to learn how to effectively study, diagnose and treat bipolar disorder. The medical community has come a long way, and bipolar disorder certainly does not mean a guarantee of a lonely isolated life where a normal work schedule is impossible. Still, it will be very nice when we in the mental health community are able to determine the best course of treatment for every individual patient… and what that treatment means for the brain.

While medication can be a wonderful blessing to someone with bipolar disorder, it is not the only part of treatment. The patient should still work to maintain their mental health by knowing their triggers and avoiding them when possible. In addition, some natural treatment options tend to work well in addition to medication. They include:

  • Lifestyle changes. Finding effective stress management is critical. Your Newport Beach psychiatrist can help you with this, whether by personal recommendations or referrals to group therapy sessions. Sometimes just talking things out to people who truly understand is very beneficial. Also, get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly. A stable brain is a happy brain, whether you have a mental disorder or not.
  • Avoid unhealthy relationships. This goes along with avoiding triggers. Unfortunately, you may have some relationships in your life that leave you more likely to engage in manic or depressive behaviors. These relationships can actually worsen your bipolar disorder. You’d be better off surrounding yourself with positive people who want what’s best for you.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal substances, especially if you are on medication. Unfortunately many people with bipolar disorder tend to medicate with alcohol or drugs because of the instant relief they can provide. But they just lead to more problems down the line.
  • Try yoga and meditation for quieting your mind. Yoga has proven health benefits, and meditation is good for the body and mind.
  • Some people have had good luck with taking supplements, especially fish oil and amino acids. Bipolar disorder is less common in areas where people consume a lot of fish and fish oil, which has been shown to have numerous brain benefits. However, proceed with caution—some supplements can interfere with your medication. Do your research and check with your doctor and mental health provider before going that route.

It is exciting to see what the future holds for treatment of bipolar disorder and the role medication will play in restoring mental health.