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Complementary and Integrative Health

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Conventional medicine is the approach to preventing and treating diseases taken by most doctors in the United States. Also called Western medicine, it is based on scientific evidence.

Complementary and integrative health (CIH) refers to a set of whole-body healthcare practices that combine conventional medicine with nonconventional (complementary) treatment methods. As time goes on, more and more Western doctors are beginning to recommend CIH methods than in the past.1

CIH is sometimes called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Complementary methods can be helpful along with prescription medicines and talk therapy. But they should not be used instead of conventional medicine.1

Some complementary treatment methods commonly used by people with bipolar disorder include:1,2

  • Mind and body treatments
  • Over-the-counter supplements (be sure to discuss supplements with your doctor)
  • Equine (horse) therapy

Mind and body treatments

Many people find that exercises that support the mind and body help improve their moods, anxiety, fatigue, and ability to concentrate. These methods also can help reduce stress. Common mind-body exercises include:1

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Breathing exercises

Several studies show that a few weeks of yoga classes improved mild to moderate symptoms of major depression and bipolar depression. But this improvement only came when the person was seeing a psychotherapist too.2

One study in India found that cyclical breathing in addition to yoga improved depression. Cyclical breathing is the practice of breathing rapidly for 1 minute, resting, and then repeating the rapid breathing 2 to 4 more times.2

Supplements for bipolar disorder

Over-the-counter supplements are a popular choice for many people. There is scientific evidence to back up the health claims of some supplements but not all. But since many supplements seem to have few side effects, lots of people try these over-the-counter remedies to find relief. These do not replace medicines and you should talk to your provider before starting supplements since they may interact with your medicines.1,3

Below are a few supplements people with bipolar may try. But always ask your doctor before you start taking a new supplement. Supplements are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the same way prescription drugs are. This means that no outside agency confirms the ingredients or suggested dose. Your doctor can help you decide whether a supplement is safe.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of healthy fat that helps your body work well. Omega-3s can help lower cholesterol, lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, and lower blood pressure. Some studies also show that omega-3s can help with psychosis and other mental health conditions.1,4

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in many foods, primarily:1,4

  • Fish and fish oil supplements
  • Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Edamame (soybeans)

Folate

Folate is also known as folic acid or vitamin B9. Some studies have shown that folate supplements help improve mental health symptoms in people with low folate levels. One folate supplement (Deplin®) is approved by the FDA to help treat depression and schizophrenia. It should be used as an add-on treatment, not by itself.1

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea is also known as golden root or arctic root. In some traditions in Europe and Asia, it is used to reduce stress and improve mental health. Most doctors warn against using rhodiola to treat bipolar disorder. But some doctors believe it can help with bipolar depression if the person is monitored closely by their doctor.5

Passion flower

Passion flower, or passiflora incarnata, is a flowering vine that produces fruit. In supplement form, it may help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. It comes in tablets, as drops, and as a syrup. Some studies suggest it may be safe and as effective as the prescription drugs oxazepam or midazolam for anxiety.3

Horse therapy

Equine, or horse, therapy is a form of animal-assisted psychotherapy. In equine therapy, people learn to groom, feed, and ride horses, led by a trained mental health professional. Some small studies show that horse therapy improves symptoms of depression, anxiety, and impulsiveness.1

These are not all the supplements and mind-body treatments people may try for bipolar disorder. Before beginning any treatment for bipolar disorder, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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