Omega-3 fatty acids, otherwise known as fish oil, have been shown to stabilize the mood of people suffering from bipolar disorder. Yes, that's right, fish oil.
Researchers at Harvard University back in 1999 made a very amazing discovery. During a research study involving omega-3s and people with bipolar disorder it was discovered that those taking fatty acid supplements made such striking progress in regards to mood stabilization that the experiment was stopped after 4 months so that the control patients, those taking placebos, could start taking fish oil. All of the people in the study suffered from bipolar disorder.
The study was initially setup with 35 test subjects. During the test they continued to take their normal bipolar medication. Among the 15 that took the fatty acids 11 of them improved after 4 months and 2 of those suffered temporary relapses. The control group of 20 was given olive oil and of those only 6 of the 20 showed any improvement and 11 experienced a relapse. The patients taking the omega-3 fatty acids had longer periods of remission and when their symptoms did reappear they were less severe.
In fact some of the patients were able to stop taking their prescription medications and remain symptom free on the supplements alone. While there were some side effects such as nausea, belching, fishy taste and loose stools, these were small compared to the side effects of more powerful bipolar drugs and easily controlled.
Because of the relative short amount of time since this study was done the long term benefits or assumptions of using fish oil to treat bipolar disorder are not known. What is interesting about this study is it shows that dietary therapy can be as effective for a major illness as prescription drugs.
So how do omega-3 fatty acids help with bipolar disorder? No one really knows. Fish oil is made up of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s tend to concentrate in the eyes and brain, where they are present in cell membranes. It may be that eating fish oil increases the concentration of omega-3s in neuronal membranes, and theby slows nerve signaling, which in turn may stabilize mood.
There is some evidence that omega-6 fatty acids such as found in vegetable oils, margarine, and mayonnaise may negate the beneficial effects of omega-3s. Correspondingly, patients taking fish oil for their bipolar disorder should probably decrease their intake of omega-6s.
Although fish oil has shown great promise in the treatment of bipolar disorder it is important that anyone suffering from this disease not treat themselves and use omega-3s under the care of their doctor or therapist.