Major Study Finds Pregnancy Issue Actually Linked to Autism, And It’s Not Vaccines

It’s a common but erroneous belief among anti-vaxxers that if a pregnant woman gets jabbed, she puts her unborn child at risk of autism.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, a growing body of research suggests that when a mother goes unvaccinated, that is when she truly leaves her child vulnerable.

A new study of nearly 1.8 million children in Sweden has found that the risks for autism and depression are significantly higher if your mother was hospitalised with an infection during pregnancy.

The results build on a nascent but burgeoning idea that specific infections, when contracted during pregnancy, can harm a developing brain, boosting the risk of psychiatric disorders coming on later in life, including conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophreniadepression, and autism.

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This new study, however, paints a much broader stroke. Instead of revealing one or two bad infections, the authors found that the results remained the same whether or not the hospitalisation was due to severe infections – like influenza, meningitis and pneumonia – or much more mild UTIs.

In other words, it isn’t necessarily a specific virus, but infection in general that appears to be causing these problems, and it seems to be the case even when the affliction can’t reach the fetal brain.

“The results indicate that safeguarding against and preventing infection during pregnancy as far as possible by, for instance, following flu vaccination recommendations, may be called for,” says Verena Sengpiel, an expert in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Gothenburg.

Drawing on data from the Medical Birth Register for almost 1.8 million children, born in Sweden between 1973 and 2014, the authors tallied how many of their mothers had been hospitalised with an infection during their respective pregnancies.

The researchers then tracked these children and their mental health through the inpatient register until 2014, when the oldest ones were turning 41.

Statistical analysis of the data revealed a worrying link between a child’s mental health and their mother’s immune system.

While the study did not find an increased risk of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, the authors did find that when a pregnant woman goes to the hospital for an infection, her child is more likely to seek hospital treatment for depression and autism later on in life.

In fact, among these children, the increased risk was 79 percent for autism and 24 percent for depression.

“Overall, we found evidence that exposure to maternal infection during fetal life increased the risk of autism and possibly of depression in the child,” the authors write.

“Although the individual risk appears to be small, the population effects are potentially large.”

As fascinating as it is, the study is only observational, so it can’t tell us exactly how a maternal infection would impact a child’s developing brain.

Nevertheless, recent studies on animal models have suggested that these infections might be causing an inflammatory reaction in the nervous system, altering gene expression in the brain and changing its architecture.

The thing is, many of these studies also note there are a multitude of genetic factors at play, so the answer to this puzzle could be highly complex.

“Our results cannot exclude the possibility of increased risk for psychopathologic conditions as a result of a dual “hit”: an inflammatory fetal brain injury on a background of genetic susceptibility,” the authors of the new study write.

More research will be needed before we can say for sure what is going on. In the meantime, however, the best thing a pregnant mother can do is stay healthy and adhere to the best medical advice out there. Getting all your vaccinations is a good start.

Source: JAMA Psychiatry.

21 Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder You Should Know

You might misattribute them to other conditions.
illustration of a woman's head and shoulders

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be confusing, even for professionals who have spent years learning to diagnose and treat various mental health conditions. People with bipolar disorder are often misdiagnosed as having depression before they get an accurate confirmation of their condition, delaying their treatment and possibly making their lives harder in the process. Between that and the rampant, undeserved stigma surrounding bipolar disorder, it’s important to understand the actual signs of the condition. Here’s what you need to know about the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder can cause drastic shifts in a person’s mood and behavior, fluctuating between highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes). It can also induce less severe manic periods (hypomanic episodes).

These episodes can typically last at least a week, but they can span months. Let’s walk through the typical symptoms you can expect in each kind of episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Mania and hypomania

Medical providers generally look for an ongoing, overall unusual mood along with three or more of the following symptoms when diagnosing a manic or hypomanic episode:

  1. Feeling abnormally upbeat
  2. Feeling jumpy
  3. Feeling euphoric
  4. Increased energy or activity levels
  5. Inflated self-esteem
  6. Racing thoughts
  7. Being more talkative
  8. Being easily irritated
  9. Needing less sleep
  10. Taking more risks than usual

However, if a person experiences manic symptoms linked with psychosis resulting in hallucinations or delusions, or if their symptoms are severe enough to require hospitalization, that’s also a diagnosable manic episode.

To be clear, mania and hypomania share the same symptoms. They’re just more extreme in manic periods than hypomanic ones and, as such, may be easier to recognize, Igor Galynker, M.D., associate chairman for research in the department of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, tells SELF. “Hypomanic episodes are highly adaptive,” he says. “A lot of people work 15 hours a day and have energy that’s much higher than average, but [their hypomania] is easily missed until there is a failure of some sort in their personal or professional life that results in an episode of depression.”


A bipolar depressive episode is defined as having five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks, with one of the symptoms being a depressed mood or reduced interest or pleasure in life:

  1. Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless
  2. Feeling slower than usual
  3. Feeling worried
  4. A loss of energy
  5. A loss of interest or enjoyment in activities
  6. Lower activity levels
  7. Sleeping too much or too little
  8. Appetite or weight changes
  9. Difficulty concentrating
  10. Memory problems
  11. Suicidal or death-related thoughts

Suicide is a big concern for people with bipolar disorder. “Bipolar disorder can be lethal,” Jed Magen, D.O., associate professor and chair in the department of psychiatry at Michigan State University, tells SELF. This is not only due to the depressive episodes, but because of what experts call “mixed episodes,” where people may experience features of mania and depression at the same time. This means that people with mixed episodes might have suicidal thoughts and also have a ton of energy to potentially act them out, Dr. Magen says.

As with mania, severe episodes of depression can also lead to psychosis.

Depending on the combination, length, and severity of symptoms, there are four main types of bipolar and related disorders that someone may be diagnosed with.

Here they are, per the NIMH:

Bipolar I disorder is defined as having manic episodes that last at least seven days or having such severe mania that someone needs to be hospitalized. People with bipolar I disorder usually have depressive episodes, too, or mixed episodes that feature characteristics of both depression and mania.

Bipolar II disorder includes depressive episodes along with hypomanic episodes rather than more severe mania.

Cyclothymic disorder involves periods of hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years in adults (and only one year in kids and teenagers). (The symptoms don’t last for two full years—as with the other diagnoses here, people with cyclothymic disorder have alternating periods without any symptoms.) Although the symptoms don’t meet the diagnostic requirements for hypomanic and depressive episodes, having cyclothymic disorder increases a person’s risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders describes having symptoms of bipolar disorder that don’t quite fit into any of the other categories.

Doctors aren’t entirely sure why people with bipolar or related disorders go through these mood changes. Major risk factors include structural brain changes and a family history of first-degree relatives with the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you think you have bipolar disorder, it’s important to consult a mental health professional and go over your symptoms in detail.

People with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help when they’re dealing with the depressive symptoms than manic ones. If you’re dealing with mania, you might feel excellent and relish the amped up energy, and if you’re experiencing hypomania, it might not even seem like anything is different enough to warrant talking to an expert. So, if you do end up seeing a doctor about possibly having bipolar disorder, it’s important to explain the full range of your symptoms in order for them to give you a proper diagnosis, the NIMH says.

Landing on the right treatment for bipolar disorder often takes some effort, but trying is crucial. “People with bipolar disorder who go without treatment will relapse,” Dr. Galynker says.

Medication is a cornerstone of treatment, and many different types can be effective for bipolar disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. These generally include mood stabilizers to reduce mania and hypomania, antipsychotics, antidepressants, antidepressant-antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs. Since the symptoms of bipolar disorder can span such a wide range, your doctor may prescribe medications in various combinations to target them.

Therapy is another main aspect of treatment for bipolar disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, one option is interpersonal and social rhythm therapy meant to help a person keep their mood stable by regulating their daily routine, like when they sleep and eat. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to retrain a person’s thought patterns and resulting actions, can also be an asset.

Wading through all the potential treatments out there can be overwhelming, which is why seeing a professional is of the essence. As Dr. Galynker explains, with the right treatment, it’s much easier to lead a healthy life with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder in Children: Is It Possible?

Although bipolar disorder usually affects adults, bipolar disorder in children and teenagers is possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help.

Is bipolar disorder in children possible? Most of what I’ve read says bipolar disorder develops in adults.

Bipolar disorder in children is possible. It’s most often diagnosed in older children and teenagers, but bipolar disorder can occur in children of any age. As in adults, bipolar disorder in children can cause mood swings from the highs of hyperactivity or euphoria (mania) to the lows of serious depression.

Emotional upheaval and unruly behaviors are a normal part of childhood and the teen years, and in most cases they aren’t a sign of a mental health problem that requires treatment. All kids have rough periods—it’s normal to feel down, irritable, angry, hyperactive, or rebellious at times. However, if your child’s symptoms are severe, ongoing, or causing significant problems, it may be more than just a phase.

Here are some signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder in children:

  • Severe mood swings that are different from their usual mood swings
  • Hyperactive, impulsive, aggressive, or socially inappropriate behavior
  • Risky and reckless behaviors that are out of character, such as having frequent casual sex with many different partners (sexual promiscuity), alcohol or drug abuse, or wild spending sprees
  • Insomnia or significantly decreased need for sleep
  • Depressed or irritable mood most of the day, nearly every day during a depressive episode
  • Grandiose and inflated view of own capabilities
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors in older children and teens

Children with bipolar disorder experience symptoms in distinct episodes. Between these episodes, children return to their usual behavior and mood.

Keep in mind, a number of other childhood disorders cause bipolar-like symptoms, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, anxiety disorders, and major depression. Diagnosis can be challenging because these and other mental health conditions often occur along with bipolar disorder.

If your child has serious mood swings, depression, or behavior problems, consult a mental health provider who specializes in working with children and teens. Mood and behavior issues caused by bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions can lead to major difficulties. Early treatment can help prevent serious consequences and decrease the impact of mental health problems on your child as he or she gets older.

Important Facts on Depression: Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Story at-a-glance

  • Depression is a widespread global problem, with over 300 million people dealing with this severe mood disorder today
  • Depression does not discriminate between gender, race or social status — anyone can be predisposed to it

It’s normal for people to sometimes feel sad, disappointed or disheartened, especially when they experience low points in their life. However, these “blues” usually go away when any happy circumstances occur.

But in some people, this low mood becomes persistent and lasts a long time — for weeks, months or even years. And if it comes with other hallmark symptoms, such as lack of interest in enjoyable activities, a feeling of hopelessness or thoughts about self-harm or even suicide, then watch out: You may be suffering from depression.

depressed woman in a dark room

Depression Defined: Know the Facts

The Mayo Clinic defines depression, also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder (MDD), as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” This debilitating condition affects you entirely — how you behave, think and feel — and paves the way for emotional and physical problems to arise. Depressed individuals usually struggle with completing their day-to-day tasks, feeling as if there’s no more point in living.1

According to the Australian nonprofit organization Beyond Blue, there are different subtypes of depression depending on the symptoms, the intensity and their triggers. Some of the most common ones include manic depression, bipolar disorder, dysthymia, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “the winter blues” and antepartum and postpartum depression (occurs specifically in pregnant women and new mothers).2

Depression is a widespread global problem, with over 300 million people dealing with this severe mood disorder today.3 Even in developed, industrialized countries, depression is rampant. In fact, in the United States, between 2013 and 2016, 8.1 percent of Americans who were 20 years old and older suffered from depression in a given two-week period.4

This Disorder Is Now a Prevalent Problem

Depression is not a simple condition that you can “snap out of.” If not addressed immediately, it can damage your physical health, leading to low immunity and worsened pain, or worse, substance abuse. According to a study published in Current Opinion in Psychiatry, up to 33 percent of people suffering from clinical depression are prone to drug or alcohol problems.5

Even more alarming is the link between depression and suicide. According to the American Association of Suicidology, depression is the psychiatric diagnosis that is most commonly linked to suicide.6 It’s said that 30 to 70 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from major depression or bipolar disorder.7,8

Keep an Eye Out for the Signs — Before It’s Too Late

Depression does not discriminate between gender, race or social status. Anyone can be predisposed to it. Given its potentially dangerous effects, it’s only wise to take the necessary precautions to address and treat this disorder before it spirals out of control. But a word to the wise: Antidepressants and other medications are NOT the best solution for depression, and may even have more debilitating and long-term side effects.

Read these articles and learn important facts about depression, including its hallmark symptoms, devastating effects and how to avoid it. Plus, learn natural yet useful remedies that will help alleviate this disorder but will not put you at risk for side effects, unlike conventional antidepressant medications. Stay informed now, so you can avoid or address this mental disorder immediately.

Bipolar Disorder: An Introduction to This Serious Mental Disorder

Story at-a-glance

  • Extreme mood shifts that are accompanied by fluctuating energy levels are the hallmark symptoms of a serious mental illness known as bipolar disorder
  • Keep in mind that bipolar disorder is a manageable illness. You can still live a happy and fulfilling life even if you’re diagnosed with it, as long as you follow the recommended treatment methods, therapy and healthy lifestyle habits

While it’s perfectly normal for a person to experience shifting feelings of happiness and loneliness every now and then, there are cases wherein these mood shifts become so extreme that they make day-to-day living difficult.

Extreme mood shifts that are accompanied by fluctuating energy levels are the hallmark symptoms of a serious mental illness known as bipolar disorder. If left untreated, bipolar disorder may have a significant impact on various aspects of life, including career, relationships and academic performance. In some cases, sufferers may even commit suicide. In order for you to better understand bipolar disorder, let’s first discuss the basics about mental health and mental illnesses.

A Brief Overview of Mental Health and Mental Illnesses

Mental health refers to your emotional, psychological and social well-being. It basically affects how you make choices, handle relationships, cope with stress and perform activities. There are many factors that may impair your mental health, including trauma, abuse, family history, genes and brain chemistry.1

Mental health problems are more common than you might expect. According to the American Psychiatric Association, 19 percent of U.S. adults are suffering from a form of mental illness, and 1 in 24 adults is diagnosed with a serious mental condition like bipolar disorder.2 There are also different forms of mental health problems. Bipolar disorder is categorized under mood or affective disorders, along with depression and mania. Other categories of mental illnesses include:3

Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Psychotic disorders like schizophrenia

Concurrent disorders, such as addictions and substance abuse

Personality disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD) and antisocial personality disorder

These mental illnesses vary in severity. Some are so mild that they do not have any noticeable effects on the daily lives of sufferers, while others become so severe that immediate medical attention is required.4

The Prevalence of Bipolar Disorder: How Many Are Burdened With This Illness?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), bipolar personality disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability,5 affecting around 60 million people worldwide.6 The National Institute of Mental Health also reports that there are around 5.7 million Americans age 18 years old and above who are diagnosed with this condition, and 82.9 percent of these cases are considered severe.7

While bipolar disorder may affect anyone regardless of age, gender, race and social class, statistics show that it’s more common in women than men, with a ratio of approximately 3-to-2. The median age of onset is also 25 years old, although it may occur later in life or during early childhood.8

Despite the prevalence of bipolar disorder, there are still numerous misconceptions and stigma surrounding this mental health problem, making it harder for sufferers to manage their condition successfully.9

Browse These Pages for Useful Information About Bipolar Disorder

If you or a loved one has been experiencing extreme mood shifts that are akin to the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s important to consult a doctor or a licensed mental health professional right away for proper diagnosis and treatment. Keep in mind that bipolar disorder is a manageable illness. You can still live a happy and fulfilling life even if you’re diagnosed with it, as long as you follow the recommended treatment methods, therapy and healthy lifestyle habits.

Adequate knowledge about this condition may also help you cope with it more easily and come up with effective ways to take control of your mood swings — or to help someone you know who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Browse these Bipolar Disorder pages to learn more about what causes it, the common symptoms that you may encounter and the possible treatment methods that you can follow.


The science supporting the efficacy of magnesium for major depression and other psychiatric disorders, testing for magnesium deficiency, and which forms and dosages are most effective.

Depression, a life-threatening psychiatric disorder, lies at the confluence of biochemical, hormonal, immunological, and neurodegenerative variables, which intersect to generate the pro-inflammatory state with which depression is associated. A major public health issue, depression is estimated to become one of the top three contributors to the global burden of diseases within a few years. Not only does depression consume a sizable portion of health care expenditures, but it is considered to be an independent risk factor for metabolic, cardiovascular, and neuropsychiatric disorders (1).

Current treatments are predicated upon a misguided serotonin theory of depression, and are accompanied by a laundry list of deleterious side effects ranging from sexual dysfunction to homicidality (2, 3, 4). Antidepressant medications likewise significantly increase the risk of all-cause mortality, or death from any cause, as well as heart disease, leading researchers to deem this class of pharmaceuticals as harmful to the general population (5). This, in combination with data indicating that antidepressants are clinically equivalent to placebo, render them an unfavorable option (6), especially considering that they offer little in the way of resolving the root cause.

Magnesium: The Miracle Mineral

Rather than resorting to psychotropic drugs, it would be prudent to explore whether magnesium (Mg) supplementation improves depression, since this essential mineral is implicated in the pathophysiology of this disorder. Magnesium may be indeed branded as miraculous given its essentiality as a cofactor to over three hundred enzymatic reactions (7). It is second only to potassium in terms of the predominant intracellular cations, or ions residing in cells that harbor a positive charge (7).

 Magnesium is fundamentally involved in protein production, synthesis of nucleic acids, cell growth and division, and maintenance of the delicate electrolyte composition of our cells (7). It also imparts stability to the membranes of the energy factories of our cells called mitochondria (7). As articulated by researchers, “The physiological consequences of these biochemical activities include Mg’s central roles in the control of neuronal activity, cardiac excitability, neuromuscular transmission, muscular contraction, vasomotor tone, and blood pressure” (7).

The biological effects of magnesium are widespread. When deficient, magnesium is correlated with systemic inflammation. Not only does magnesium sufficiency promote cardiovascular health, relaxing the smooth muscles that comprise blood vessels and preventing high levels of vascular resistance that cause hypertension, but it also plays a role in musculoskeletal health and prevents sarcopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures (8). Magnesium is essential to regulation of sleep (9) and vitamin D metabolism (10) as well as neural plasticity and cognitive function.

However, food processing and industrial agriculture, including monoculture crop practices and the use of magnesium-devoid fertilizers, have led to soil erosion and depletion of magnesium content in our food (7). Magnesium is likewise removed from most drinking water supplies, rendering magnesium deficiency an inevitability (11). As such, our daily intake of magnesium has steadily declined from 500 milligrams (mg) per day to 175 mg per day (7). The nutrient-poor, energy-dense dietary patterns which have come to dominate the industrialized landscape are also insufficient in the fiber-rich fruits and vegetables which contain magnesium.

Animal Studies Propose a Role for Magnesium in Depression

Preliminary animal studies pointed to a role of magnesium in depression, as depletion of magnesium in the diet of mice lead to enhanced depression- and anxiety-related behavior such as increased immobility time in the forced swim test (12). In the forced swim test, a common assay for examining depression-like behavior in rodents, the animal is confined to a container filled with water and observed as it attempts to escape. The time in which the animal exhibits immobility is used as a barometer of despair, indicating that the animal has succumbed to a fate of drowning (1).

This model is confirmed by studies showing that administering substances with antidepressant properties such as Hypericum perforatum, also known as St. John’s Wort, can significantly decrease the time the animal spends without locomotor activity (12). In addition, the time the animal spends immobilized is influenced by many of the factors that are changed as a consequence of depression in humans, such as drug-withdrawal-induced anhedonia, impaired sleep, and altered food consumption (1).

Human Studies Confirm the Role of Magnesium in Depression

There is a paucity of research on the influence of specific micronutrients in depression and results are inconsistent, but several studies have revealed low serum magnesium in this mood disorder. It is well-documented, for example, that dietary magnesium deficiency in conjunction with stress can lead to neuropathologies and symptoms of psychiatric disorders. Researchers echo this sentiment, stating that, “Dietary deficiencies of magnesium, coupled with excess calcium and stress may cause many cases of other related symptoms including agitation, anxiety, irritability, confusion, asthenia, sleeplessness, headache, delirium, hallucinations and hyperexcitability” (11, p. 362).

The Hordaland Health study in Western Norway illustrated an inverse association between standardized energy-adjusted magnesium intake and depression scores, meaning that people who consumed less magnesium had higher rates of depression (13). When the serum and cerebrospinal fluid of acutely depressed patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar patients in a depressive episode were compared to healthy controls, the calcium to magnesium ratio was found to be elevated in the former (14). Calcium and magnesium are minerals which antagonize one another and compete for absorption, since each of these minerals is a divalent cation (a positive ion with a valence of two). Suicidality, one of the primary manifestations of severe depression, is accompanied by low cerebrospinal fluid levels of magnesium despite normal calcium levels, lending credence to the role of magnesium in positive emotionality (15).

Magnesium Effective in Bipolar Disorder, Fibromyalgia, PMS, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A formulation of magnesium aspartate hydrochloride known as Magnesiocard has been shown to invoke mood-stabilizing effects in patients with severe rapid cycling bipolar disorder in one open study label (16). In half of the patients treated, this magnesium preparation had results equivalent to lithium, the standard of care for this patient population, such that the researchers suggested: “The possibility that Magnesiocard could replace or improve the efficacy of lithium as a preventive treatment of manic-depressive illness merits further clinical investigation” (16, p. 171). When used as an adjunctive therapy in severe, therapy-resistant mania, magnesium sulphate infusions significantly reduced the use of lithium, benzodiazepines and neuroleptics, so much so that the researchers concluded that it “may be a useful supplementary therapy for the clinical management of severe manic agitation” (17, p. 239).

In another randomized trial of elderly patients with type 2 diabetes and magnesium deficiency, elemental magnesium administered at 450 mg per day was found to have equivalent efficacy to 50 mg of the antidepressant drug Imipramine in treating depressive symptoms (18). Magnesium citrate taken at 300 mg per day has likewise been shown to decrease depression and other symptoms in patients with fibromyalgia as indicated by significant decreases in the fibromyalgia impact questionnaire (FIQ) and Beck depression scores (19).

Data also indicate that supplementation with 360 mg of magnesium administered to women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) three times a day in the second half of the cycle is effective for so-called negative affect and other premenstrual-related mood symptoms (20). Lastly, intramuscular magnesium sulphate administered every week for six weeks has been proven to be effective in improving emotional state and other parameters in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) (21).

Mechanism of Action for Antidepressant Effects of Magnesium

According to researchers, “Biological systems discussed to be involved in the pathophysiology of affective disorders and the action of mood stabilizing drugs are affected by Mg, such as the activity of the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenocortical (HPA) system, corticotropin releasing factor (CRF)-, GABA- and glutamatergic (via NMDA receptors) neurotransmission and several transduction pathways including protein kinase C” (12). Not only that, but magnesium elicits similar effects on nocturnal hormonal secretion and sleep brain waves to lithium salts, which are used as a treatment modality for bipolar disorder, supporting the role of magnesium as a mood stabilizer (22).

Magnesium operates as an agonist, or a stimulatory molecule, for γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors (22). GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. By binding to the GABA receptor and replicating the effects of GABA, magnesium may alleviate anxiety. Magnesium may also elicit its antidepressant effects by acting as an inorganic antagonist of N-methyl-d-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor function (Poleszak et al., 2007). Receptor antagonists are ligands, or substances, which bind to a receptor but inhibit its activity rather than activating it. NMDA receptors, which occur on the surface of nerve cells, are activated in part by glutamate, one of the excitatory amino acids in the brain.

Researchers state that, “Dysfunction of NMDA receptors seems to play a crucial role in the neurobiology of disorders such as Parkinson’s diseaseAlzheimer’s diseaseepilepsy, ischemic stroke, anxiety and depression,” such that, “ligands interacting with different sites of NMDA receptor complex are widely investigated as potential agents for the treatment of a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders” (22). In fact, drug inhibitors at the NMDA receptor complex, such as ketamine, demonstrate antidepressant effects (23, 24), but also induce such severe side effects that their clinical utility is limited (31). Magnesium, on the other hand, may have a similar mechanism of action by interfering with NMDA receptor activation without the adverse consequences of drug-induced NMDA receptor blockade (25).

Recent Study Proves Efficacy of Oral Magnesium for Depression

A recent open-label, randomized, cross-over trial was conducted in outpatient primary care clinics on 126 adults diagnosed with depression (26). During the intervention, 248 mg of elemental magnesium chloride per day, obtained from four 500 mg tablets, was administered for six weeks and compared to six weeks of no treatment, and subjects were evaluated for changes in depressive symptoms (26).

Magnesium administration results in clinically significant improvements in scores on both the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), a validated measure of the severity of depression and response to treatment, as well as the Generalized Anxiety Disorders-7 (GAD-7), a sensitive self-reported screening tool for severity of anxiety disorders (26). Impressively, results appeared in as little as two weeks, representing the dramatic improvement that nutrient restoration can facilitate (26). Impressively, however, magnesium exerted anti-depressant effects regardless of baseline magnesium level. It also exhibited efficacy independent of the gender, age, or baseline severity of depression of subjects, as well as their use of antidepressant medications (26). The authors of the study conclude, “Magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults. It works quickly and is well tolerated without the need for close monitoring for toxicity” (26).

Populations At Risk for Magnesium Deficiency

Half of the population of the United States was found to consume less than the recommended amount of magnesium when estimated a decade ago (27). Not only is magnesium lost with certain medical conditions, but this mineral is excreted as a consequence of biological activities such as sweating, urinating, and defecating as well as excess production of stress hormones (7, 11). In addition, because low magnesium has been correlated with various disease states, increasing magnesium status may mitigate risk of these diseases.

For instance, researchers note that, “Low magnesium intakes and blood levels have been associated with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, elevated C-reactive protein, hypertension, atherosclerotic vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, osteoporosis, migraine headache, asthma, and colon cancer” (27, p. 153). In addition, magnesium deficiency at a cellular level “elicits calcium-activated inflammatory cascades independent of injury or pathogens” (27, p. 153). Low magnesium is associated with systemic inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of most chronic and degenerative diseases.

Testing for Magnesium and Food Sources of Magnesium

While the first inclination of some physicians may be to test magnesium levels for an objective parameter of deficiency, the widely used serum or plasma magnesium does not accurately reflect magnesium levels stored in other tissues (28, 29). In addition, both this hematological index of magnesium status, referred to as total magnesium, and the erythrocyte magnesium level, indicative of the levels of magnesium inside red blood cells, are not negatively affected until severe magnesium deprivation has occurred (7). Therefore, these testing methodologies are not accurate enough to catch preliminary or subclinical magnesium deficiency.

Good food sources of magnesium include pumpkin and squash seed kernels, Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, quinoa, spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, potatoes, artichoke hearts, dates, bananas, coconut milk, prickly pear, black beans, lima beans, soybeans, and seafood sources including halibut, abalone, anchovy, caviar, conch, crab, oyster, scallop, snail, and pollock. However, it is important to note that magnesium can be leeched from vegetables when food is boiled, and that fiber in excess can decrease magnesium absorption by increasing gastrointestinal motility (7).

Most Bioavailable Forms of Magnesium

As elucidated by the researchers, “Over-the-counter magnesium can be offered as an alternative therapy to those patients hesitant to begin antidepressant treatment and is easily accessible without a prescription” (26). Because the soil is no longer enriched in magnesium, supplementation may be warranted. Organic salts of magnesium, including the acetate, ascorbate, aspartate, bicitrate, gluconate, and lactate forms are more soluble and biologically active over the magnesium mineral salts such as magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate, magnesium chloride, and magnesium sulfate (7).

However, case studies have shown remarkably rapid recovery from major depression, in less than seven days, when magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurinate are administered at dosages of 125 to 300 mg with each meal and at bedtime (11). Magnesium threonate may also be explored as a therapeutic option, as it may have better penetrance of the blood brain barrier and restore neurological levels of magnesium. This form, which is delivered directly to the brain, may improve cerebral signaling pathways and synaptic connections between nerve cells as well as support learning and memory, although the studies have been conducted in animal models (30).

Researchers report that magnesium is usually effective for treating depression in general use, and that comorbid conditions occurring in these case studies, including “traumatic brain injury, headache, suicidal ideation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, postpartum depression, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco abuse, hypersensitivity to calcium, short-term memory loss and IQ loss were also benefited” by magnesium supplementation (11, p. 362). Barring abnormal kidney function, the Institute of Medicine sets the upper tolerable limit for intake at 350 mg of elemental magnesium per day, but there are few adverse side effects documented unless consumed in inordinate doses (26).

Before changing your medication or nutraceutical regimen, always consult a functional or integrative medical doctor for contraindications. However, given the benign nature of magnesium supplementation and the ubiquity of magnesium insufficiency, depressedpatients should be offered this as a first line strategy alongside a holistic root-cause resolution approach to treating depression


It’s become a common question to ask if someone is anti- or pro-vaccination. With heavy arguments on either side and truths and lies at every turn, the controversy surrounding the topic seems only to heighten with each passing year. So when researchers find valuable information that is for or against vaccinations, it’s worth reading up.


Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen a devastating rise in brain disorders like Autism, ADHD, and major depressive disorders — a phenomenon that, understandably, has people searching for answers, particularly those directly affected. In this regard, an overwhelming amount of parents have reported that their children went from being seemingly healthy to suddenly suffering from disorders like Autism or ADHD as a result of vaccinations.

Now a team of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and Penn State College of Medicine have lent further weight to many of these parents’ words. The study, which analyzed five years’ worth of private health insurance data on children ages 6-15, discovered that young people vaccinated in the previous three to 12 months were much more likely to be diagnosed with certain neuropsychiatric disorders than their non-vaccinated counterparts.

The study raises more questions among an already growing list regarding whether over-vaccination can cause immunological and neurological damage in vulnerable children. The research was published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, Jan. 19.

Over 95,000 children in the database that were analyzed were found to have one of  seven neuropsychiatric disorders: anorexia nervosa, anxiety disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and tic disorder. The children with these disorders were measured against those without such disorders, as well as children with two other conditions unrelated to vaccination: open wounds and broken bones.

The control subjects without brain disorders were matched with subjects based on age, geographic location, and gender. The researchers found, as they had imagined they would, that broken bones and open wounds had no association with vaccinations worth noting. Additionally, new cases of major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD showed no noteworthy link with vaccinations.

 The study did find, however, that children who had been vaccinated were 80% more likely to be diagnosed with anorexia and 25% more likely to be diagnosed with OCD than those who had not been vaccinated. Furthermore, vaccinated children had a higher risk of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and with tics compared to the controls.

“This pilot epidemiologic analysis implies that the onset of some neuropsychiatric disorders may be temporally related to prior vaccinations in a subset of individuals,” the researchers wrote. “These findings warrant further investigation, but do not prove a causal role of antecedent infections or vaccinations in the pathoetiology of these conditions.”

They also caution that their research should by no means serve as a deciding factor for whether or not people should vaccinate their children. “Given the modest magnitude of these findings in contrast to the clear public health benefits of the timely administration of vaccines in preventing mortality and morbidity in childhood infectious diseases, we encourage families to maintain vaccination schedules according to CDC guidelines,” they said.

This Is What It’s Actually Like to Live With Bipolar Disorder

“I’m a genuinely happy adult with friends, a partner, a home, and a career.”

A lot of people only know bipolar disorder as it’s shown on TV or in movies. You know the trope: One minute characters are catatonically depressed, and the next they’re so manic they think they can fly off a building. They can’t hold down a steady job, and their relationships with friends and family are destructive at best. They’re hypersexual and prone to fits of rage. Essentially, they’re portrayed as completely out of control. And most of the time, these are the only facets of their character; bipolar, and little else, defines them. But for real people living with bipolar disorder, their lives may or may not resemble those stereotypes.

Bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is a brain disorder characterized by shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. Typically these mood shifts range from highs (manic or hypomanic episodes) to lows (depressive episodes). There are several types of bipolar disorder, each differentiated based on the pattern of mood and energy shifts:

  • Bipolar I disorder: Manic episodes last at least seven days or are severe enough to warrant immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes usually occur, too, and last at least two weeks. Mixed episodes are also possible.
  • Bipolar II disorder: A pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic manic episodes (which are less severe than manic episodes), without ever having a full manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Multiple episodes of manic and depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years, though not meeting the diagnostic criteria of hypomanic or depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar disorder “other specified” or “unspecified”: Symptoms don’t fit into the other types, but include significant shifts in mood and energy levels.

You can be diagnosed with bipolar at any age, but most people are diagnosed in their teens or twenties, and you’re at a higher risk if you have a family history of bipolar. Traumatic events, like the death of someone close to you, and drug or alcohol use can also trigger the first episode.

Manic episodes, according to the NIMH, have several telltale signs including: feeling euphoric, having more energy than usual, insomnia, speaking fast about several things at once, jumbled thoughts, feeling irritable, and doing risky things you usually wouldn’t (like spending a lot of money or having unsafe sex). During manic episodes, you might also experience psychosis or hallucinations. Depressive episodes, on the other hand, include signs like: feeling hopeless, having little energy, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, forgetfulness, and thoughts of death and/or suicide.

But bipolar is treatable with medications including mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants, as well as psychotherapy, and people with the disorder can absolutely lead fulfilling, successful, happy lives. We talked to seven of them.

Editors note: Some of the anecdotes below contain details that are graphic or sensitive in nature.

1. Julianne, 25: “My emotions were so uncontrollably heightened that I wanted to die.”

“At first, having bipolar wasn’t life-threateningly terrible. I was hypomanic throughout middle school, recklessly using my sexuality to manipulate my guy friends and lacking the empathy to realize that I was hurting them. But I excelled in school, volunteered with multiple organizations, babysat, and played in the school band. I wasn’t [necessarily] ‘acting out.’

By freshman year [of high school], I drank heavily and did every drug I could get my hands on. But as long as I was acing my honors classes, I didn’t care. But during the beginning of sophomore year, when I tried [to study] or read something, my mind would cycle through every terrible detail of my life. Without being able to [focus], my academic life was shattered. Every night I’d scream into my pillow, shaking and crying. My emotions were so uncontrollably heightened that I wanted to die. I kept telling myself it would get better, but this continued for months.

I also started taking scissors to my thighs and I would imagine cutting the fat off, even though I was also starving myself. I would feel such overwhelming mental pain that I would cut and scratch my skin to try to somehow numb it. I also experienced psychosis and paranoia: there were snakes on the walls and people following me. I wouldn’t sleep for days in a row. A month before I turned 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar I at an outpatient mental health facility for children and teenagers.

Now, I’m a genuinely happy adult with fantastic friends, a life partner, a home, and a career I’m proud of. I’ve been clean of drugs of alcohol for about eight years. But I still don’t tell people about my past unless they’re a close friend. The media often portrays people who are mentally ill as one-dimensional, low-life characters. But their lives have been shattered in different ways and they’re just trying to survive. You shouldn’t write them off for making choices you don’t understand.”

2. Emma, 25: “It drives me crazy, this attitude that mania is a gift that justifies the pain of depression.”

I was diagnosed with bipolar II at 14, after being misdiagnosed with ADHD for about six years. My pediatrician referred me to a psychiatrist after she suspected that my ADHD was a misdiagnosis. Now, my depression is easier to handle than it has ever been, partially because [more people publicly talk about it], so it’s easier to find communal support for it. Mania is still hard because the effects are harder to deal with after the fact, like [financial problems from overspending], or hurtful things I say or do to people I care about.

I’m terrified of having children, which is also something I really want to do. I would have to be off my medication at least during pregnancy, if not longer if I breast feed. Beyond actually having a child, raising a child is scary. I would hate for my bipolar to affect my relationship with them negatively. I’m always on the hunt for positive narratives about bipolar parents raising children with healthy relationships, but they can be hard to find. But I think I have a lot of natural empathy for how other people move around in the world because my movements, at times, have been so illogical. I find myself being able to accept the symptoms of my friends with [mental illness] at face value and I try to support them as much as possible without judgment.

I feel like the thing Hollywood gets the most wrong about living with bipolar disorder is that mania is a super power or gift. I’m thinking about artists that created while manic, or Carrie [Claire Danes’s character] on Homeland cracking the case because of wild leaps in logic while manic. The idea that the world deserves the results of mania more than those with bipolar disorder deserve safety in their own minds is really [upsetting]. It drives me crazy, this attitude that mania is a gift that justifies the pain of depression. I think it is hard for people to understand that my manias are my most destructive times, both in terms of how it affects my life and my relationships.

3. Danielle, 29: “The suicidal thoughts that come when I’m down are really tough.”

“Before I was diagnosed by my former psychiatrist, I experienced intense mood swings and, retrospectively, extreme overreactions to everyday situations. I would swing from deeply insecure to super confident, and I had thoughts of suicide and worthlessness coupled with bouts of creativity.

My symptoms now aren’t much different really, but I’m older now so I know how to recognize when I’m having a swing and can attempt to not give into it. I still experience insanely low lows that last for a couple weeks at a time. The suicidal thoughts that come when I’m down are really tough. Even though I can recognize them as temporary because of my experience with bipolar, it doesn’t change that those thoughts are deeply unsettling. For me, the highs are much more infrequent.

I used to turn to my loved ones for support, but I don’t want to burden anyone. My dog is always a quiet supporter, and journaling and meditation have been extremely helpful. Right now health insurance is unaffordable for me, so I’m without a therapist.

Still, I sometimes think that I’ve been given a gift. Bipolar kind of forces you to deal with your emotions head on. Shoving them down isn’t an option.”

4. Sabrina, 34: “I literally racked up thousands of dollars in debt due to my uncontrollable urge to spend.”

“I have bipolar NOS, which means ‘not otherwise specified.’ I don’t have bipolar I or II; my symptoms include aspects of both. Before I was diagnosed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner (and later confirmed by a general practitioner), I experienced a long depressive state, while at the same time having prolonged bouts of creativity where it felt like I had access to every emotion ever. I also exhibited more than a decade of insomnia and uncontrollable spending. I literally racked up thousands of dollars in debt due to my uncontrollable urge to spend. I also alienated friends and family as I navigated depressive states.

Now, my mood is regulated by medication, but it does a better job at curbing the highs than the lows. I still fight low-to-moderate level depression most of the time. But I feel like I can engage properly with the people around me, I have a better handle on my emotions, and I’m [better at my job]. When my meds are wrong I can bounce around between good days and bad days of varying degrees. There’s no real ‘normal’ when I’m un-medicated.

I live alone and have for a decade and a half. Most of my close friends are people that I talk to over the computer or phone (and I do very regularly). I do have a couple of ‘real life’ friends but they don’t live in the area so I mostly talk to them on the phone, too. My family is scattered around the country so I only see them occasionally, but I’m very close to my mother and we speak daily. She helps me keep tabs on how I sound and how that might relate to how I’m feeling. I’m also very close to my coworkers.

I want people to know that bipolar isn’t as ‘big’ as it appears on TV. Manic episodes don’t necessarily mean hopping around the house or harassing people or going ‘crazy.’ And depression associated with bipolar doesn’t necessarily manifest as sadness. For many people, myself included, it’s an unrelenting and insidious apathy.”

5. Anna, 23: “Mixed episodes scare me the most. That’s where I feel like I completely lose myself.”

“My psychiatrist diagnosed me with bipolar II when I was 19. Even with medication and the coping skills I’ve learned, I still have mood cycles that are a bit irregular, but they aren’t constant highs or lows. I actually have periods of time where I feel ‘regular’ which is great! But in the last five years, I’ve had periods of depression and some prolonged periods of hypomania. I also tend to experience mixed episodes where I’m both severely depressed but with a lot of energy and restlessness. I keep track of my moods so I’m able to address if I’m slipping into a depression or coming into a hypomanic period.

Mixed episodes scare me the most. That’s where I feel like I completely lose myself. It’s not just that I’m depressed and think that I’m worthless, but I have the energy to do something about it. In mixed episodes I’ve put myself in dangerous situations or excessively used substances. I’ve ruined relationships because I didn’t think I was deserving of love. Being hypomanic tends to make me less hungry, but in times of mixed episodes I restrict my food intake as a means of self-harm. It’s not exactly an eating disorder, but it’s definitely disordered eating.

At the same time, being bipolar is one of my favorite aspects of myself. I am creative and enthusiastic. I am passionate and ambitious. I have art all over my house that I’ve created during hypomanic periods. As a graduate student, I can (and want to) write page after page of papers. I can fill up a journal with thoughts and ideas. I’ve learned to utilize my symptoms for the better. I’m not broken. Yes, I [have to] manage severe symptoms, but the amazing things I’ve experienced from being bipolar are things I actually want to keep.”

6. Eryn, 42: “I wouldn’t get out of bed, I wouldn’t shower, I wouldn’t eat.”

“I was diagnosed with bipolar II by a psychiatrist when I was about 30. Before I was diagnosed, my [manic] states were becoming very high, and my lows were becoming very low. In a manic phase, I would clean non-stop and talk incessantly, always plotting the next grand scheme for my life. Of course I never followed through with any of these plans. I would also become reckless with my behavior. Before I was married, I would sleep around a lot during manic periods and I ended up in some very compromising situations with one-night stands. I was lucky I was never hurt. I drank a lot to bring myself back down, which eventually it would, but then I’d be depressed for weeks. I wouldn’t get out of bed, I wouldn’t shower, I wouldn’t eat. Since I started medication, my symptoms have become manageable and mostly unnoticeable.

I have a loving husband and a three-year-old son. My mother has been my backbone through it all; when I first got on medication she stayed with me for a few weeks to make sure I was stable. Starting a new medication can be difficult at first and she was very much there for me during that time.

The depression is what scares me the most about bipolar. The low is so low that you just don’t want to wake up anymore regardless of how great your life [might actually be]. I’m also afraid that my son will end up having bipolar. But I want people to know that though it can be a difficult disorder, most of us can lead perfectly ‘normal’ lives.”

7. Hannah, 28: “I’m freaked out by the thought that I’ll never have a full grasp on stability and normalcy.”

“I was diagnosed with what’s called bipolar II rapid cycling with mixed states, when I was 26. I’ve always been someone who has what I’d call ‘an unusually wide emotional range,’ and my family and friends have described me as ‘extreme,’ but the first time something felt truly off was with a sudden overwhelming wave of depression. I felt completely hollow. It persisted for a few weeks and then suddenly lifted, like it was never even there. Then not long after, I started feeling riled up in a way that’s still hard to describe. Everything felt faster: My heart rate increased, I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts, and I couldn’t sit still or sleep. I went five days sleeping just one or two hours a night, yet I didn’t feel tired.

I had all these ideas about what I wanted to do and I’d just go for it, like starting projects by spending hundreds of dollars on stuff I never touch now, giving myself tattoos, and shaving my head. Then one day, I could sleep and my heart calmed down. That didn’t last long. I had my first mixed state a few months later. Those are nightmarish. I had so much energy, but it was angry energy. I was on edge about everything, destructive, aggressive, and angry. My suicidal thoughts were real and actionable. These different states repeated with feelings of normalcy in between.

It took a year to get somewhere close to stable with medication and therapy. In that time, I lost my boyfriend of a decade and my best friend, both of whom said it was just ‘too much for them to deal with.’ Now I’m on multiple meds and a lot more stable. When I get really stressed or big changes occur (or sometimes just out of nowhere), I start cycling again. My symptoms are less intense now, but the depression can still be temporarily debilitating, and I tend to do and say stupid and inappropriate things when I slip into hypomania.

I’m freaked out by the thought that I’ll never have a full grasp on stability and normalcy. I’m terrified by the idea that I depend so heavily on psychiatric meds to achieve what stability I have, and that if something happens that changes my access or my reaction to these drugs, I’ll go off the rails again.

Now, I’m working on my Ph.D., I maintain stable employment, I live independently, and take good care of myself. My family is wonderful, and I have a phenomenal group of friends and a super supportive boyfriend. He struggles with depression and is very understanding when I get a little shaky. All of my best supporters have had some mental health struggles, and I think that surrounds me with a group of people who are extraordinarily empathetic and patient.”

If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder, resources are available.

Speak honestly about your symptoms with your doctor or therapist, and they can help you figure out a treatment plan. You can also find support groups and resources through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and the National Institute of Mental Health. And if you’re having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or use their Lifeline Crisis Chat service. Both are available 24/7.

An irritable, inattentive, and disruptive child: Is it ADHD or bipolar disorder?

Differentiating the irritable, oppositional child with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) from the child with bipolar disorder (BD) often is difficult. To make matters more complicated, 50% to 70% of patients with BD have comorbid ADHD.1,2 Accordingly, clinicians are often faced with the moody, irritable, dis­ruptive child whose parents want to know if he (she) is “bipolar” to try to deal with oppositional and mood behaviors.

In this article, we present an approach that will help you distinguish these 2 disorders from each other.

Read more:

‘Ride the Tiger’ — a Documentary About the Bipolar Brain

Story at-a-glance

  • An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy
  • When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful
  • Scientists are investigating strategies to control the illness by helping the brain rewire itself. This includes the use of optogenetics, deep brain stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Watch the video.URL:

An estimated 5.1 million Americans have bipolar disorder,1 also known as manic-depressive illness, which is characterized by unusual and typically dramatic shifts in mood and energy. Emotions tend to be intense, with the patient seesawing between ecstatic joy and hopeless depression.

Hallucinations and delusions of grandeur are common during the manic phase, leading the patient to engage in risky and irrational behaviors, such as not looking both ways before crossing the street because they think they’re invincible, or jumping out of a window, convinced they can fly.

The PBS documentary, “Ride the Tiger: A Guide Through the Bipolar Brain,”2originally aired on April, 2016, explores our current understanding of the illness, and puts a human face on the struggle with commentary by those challenged with it.

Highly accomplished individuals diagnosed with bipolar featured in the program include actress Patty Duke, who was diagnosed in 1982, and Patrick Kennedy, a former U.S. Representative.

By seeking to understand how the bipolar brain malfunctions, researchers believe they can get closer to understanding the inner workings of the brain, potentially unlocking treatments for other types of psychiatric problems as well.

Drugs Versus Lifestyle

While medication is typically the first-line of treatment for bipolar and other mental illnesses, they can take up to two months to work and are often frustratingly ineffective. Lithium is a “gold standard” treatment for bipolar, but even lithium works for only one-third of patients.

Another drug shown to offer relief from severe depression and bipolar depression within mere hours of administration is ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic normally used for starting and maintaining anesthesia. Research suggests ketamine helps induce neuroplasticity, allowing your brain to grow new neurons and connections.

However, this drug also fails to work in many, and often fails to provide long-lasting relief. When it comes to treatment, lifestyle changes are often the most powerful, and as noted in the program, need to be included in the treatment if it is to be successful. This includes:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep cycle
  • Exercising
  • Addressing your diet and avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, drugs and alcohol
  • Stress relief
  • Maintaining healthy emotional connections with family and friends

Scientists are also turning to more novel strategies in an effort to control the illness, seeking ways to possibly “preempt, fix or rewire” the patient’s brain back to normal.

Treatments That Help Rewire the Brain

Optogenetics is one such strategy. The technique involves the use of light and light-responsive proteins to control neuronal activity. Using this technique, the scientist can control not only the physical movement of the subject, but also the behavior.

For example, by shining a light on a specific gene-altered neuron, it can dial down the activity to reduce anxiety. Kafui Dzirasa, Ph.D., has taken it a step further, creating what he calls a closed loop actuator.

Using brain map data obtained through optogenetics, the closed loop actuator circumvents “broken” or dysfunctional areas between neurons to reestablish normal communication in that specific area of the brain. The upside of this is that you’re only stimulating and correcting the area that needs it.

Drugs, on the other hand, affect the brain in its entirety, for better or worse. While it may correct one problem, it often creates others. While showing great promise, Dzirasa is not about to implant the device in human brains any time soon.

But he hopes the device may eventually lead to other treatment strategies. Other devices used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and severe depression include:

  • Deep brain stimulation, which acts much like a pacemaker for the brain, using electrical impulses to stimulate certain brain areas to regulate mood
  • Electroconvulsive therapy, which has been shown to induce remission in up to 80 percent of patients and appears particularly effective for those with bipolar depression. One significant drawback is the potential for permanent memory loss
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation, a noninvasive procedure using magnetic fields to stimulate brain cells

These techniques basically employ electricity or magnetism as a way to change the way neurons connect, allowing your brain to create new neuronal connections and pathways (neuroplasticity), thereby bypassing the “traffic jam” that’s blocking normal communication between the neurons.

But such devices are not the only way to rewire your thought circuits. Talk therapy, meditation, prayer and “positive thinking” have also been shown to have a distinct and positive influence on the wiring in your brain.

Nutrition Is Essential for Proper Brain Function

An estimated 1 in 20 Americans over the age of 12 struggles with depression.3 Dr. Hyla Cass, a psychiatrist who uses integrative medicine in her practice, places great focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits. As mentioned earlier, this is crucial regardless of what type of mental disorder you’re facing.

One of Cass’ mentors was Dr. Abram Hoffer, a co-founder of orthomolecular medicine, which refers to the concept of nutritional deficiencies being a source of mental illness. In particular, Hoffer used high doses of niacin (B3) to successfully treat schizophrenics. Amazingly, he was able to get many of these severely ill mental patients well enough to get married and go on to lead normal lives.

As it turns out, pellagra, a disorder caused by extreme niacin deficiency, produces the same psychiatric symptoms found in schizophrenia. In fact, Hoffer discovered that many schizophrenic patients were niacin dependent, meaning they needed far more niacin on a regular basis than normal in order to remain well.

Other researchers have found niacin may also be successfully used in the treatment of other mental disorders, such as attention deficit disorder, general psychosis, anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Food sensitivities can also play a role. For example, gluten can produce symptoms of depression if you’re sensitive to it. In such a case, the key is to remove gluten from your diet entirely. You cannot simply cut down. It must be removed completely. Cass has seen many patients recover from severe depression when going gluten-free. It’s also important to avoid junk food, as it promotes gut inflammation.

According to Cass, one of the first steps in addressing a mental health problem is to clean up your diet and address your gut health. Otherwise, you’ll have virtually no chance of getting emotionally and mentally well. On her website,, you can find a free report called “Reclaim Your Brain,” which details nutritional substances you can use to address conditions like anxiety and depression.

Nutritional Deficiencies Implicated in Psychiatric Disorders

In one recent meta-analysis, fish oil, vitamin D, methylfolate (an effective form of folic acid) and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) were found to improve the effectiveness of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.4,5,6 Fish oil produced the most significant improvement, which makes sense if you understand the importance of animal-based omega-3 for brain health. Although not studied, krill oil would likely do better, and clean fish would do the best.

In fact, considering antidepressants have the clinical effectiveness of a placebo,7,8,9,10 it’s no wonder nutritional supplements can “boost” the drugs’ effectiveness. The supplements may well have been the true benefit, but that possibility was not taken into consideration in this analysis. Still, studies have shown that both omega-3 and vitamin D11 can improve mental health all on their own.

The 2001 book, “The Omega-3 Connection,” written by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Stoll, was among the first works to bring attention to and support the use of omega-3 fats for depression. Omega-3s have also been shown to improve more serious mental disorders, including schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder.12

While there’s no set recommended dose of omega-3 fats, some health organizations recommend a daily dose of 250 to 500 milligrams (mg) of EPA and DHA for healthy adults. If you suffer from depression, higher doses may be called for. In one study,13an omega-3 supplement with a dose range of 200 to 2,200 mg of EPA per day was effective against primary depression.

As for vitamin D, researchers have suggested vitamin D may play a role in depression by regulating brain chemicals called monoamines, which include serotonin.14 As a general rule, depressed individuals have lower vitamin D levels than non-depressed people,15 and having a vitamin D level below 20 ng/mL can raise your risk of depression by 85 percent compared to having a level greater than 30 ng/mL.16

B vitamins are also really important for proper brain function, and deficiencies of one or more B vitamins can result in psychiatric symptoms. For example, vitamin B12 deficiency can trigger confusion, agitation, depression,17 mania, psychosis and paranoid delusions.18,19 One recent study20,21 found vitamins B6, B8 (inositol) and B12 in combination were very effective for improving schizophrenic symptoms when taken in high doses — more so than standard drug treatments alone. Low doses were ineffective.

Lowering Inflammation Is Important for Mental Health

Studies have also linked depression to chronic inflammation and dysfunction of the gut-brain axis.22 One likely theory as to why certain nutrients work so well for depression is because they are potent anti-inflammatories. Indeed, many studies have confirmed that treating gastrointestinal inflammation helps improve symptoms of depression.23 The gut-brain connection is well-recognized as a basic tenet of physiology and medicine, so this isn’t all that surprising, even though it’s often overlooked.

A previous article24 titled “Are probiotics the new Prozac?” reviews some of the supporting evidence. For example, animal research has linked changes in gut flora to changes in affective behaviors, and in humans, probiotics (beneficial bacteria) have been shown to alter brain function.25

Previous research has also shown that certain probiotics can help alleviate anxiety. For example, one study26 found the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 normalized anxiety-like behavior in mice with infectious colitis by modulating the vagal pathways within the gut-brain.

Other research27 found that the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus had a marked effect on GABA levels — an inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in regulating many physiological and psychological processes — in certain brain regions and lowered the stress-induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety- and depression-related behavior. (It is likely other lactobacillus species also provide this benefit, but this was the only one that was tested.)

Gut Bacteria May Play a Role in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia

Researchers have also found strong connections between the gut microbiome and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.28 As recently reported by Psych Central:29

“The gut and the brain are connected by what is called the enteric nervous system [ENS]. While the ENS can act independently, it can also influence the central nervous system. It does this through millions of neurons as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, glutamate and norepinephrine. When one of these systems dysfunctions, it can heavily impact the other, causing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

One way the digestive system can dysfunction is with an alteration in the gut’s microbiome. The immune system is also vulnerable to changes in the microbiome … Part of the immune response to harmful microorganisms is inflammation. This inflammation occurs throughout the body, including areas around the brain, which can trigger or worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.”

For example, studies have found:

  • Schizophrenics have less biodiversity overall and 400 times higher population of lactic acid producing bacteria than healthy individuals. Certain metabolic pathways differ as well, including those for glutamate and vitamin B1230
  • Schizophrenics also have significantly higher amounts of Lactobacillus phage phiadh, a microorganism associated with a higher risk for diabetes, than healthy controls31
  • Those with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia tend to have chronic low-grade inflammation, associated with gut dysfunction and an imbalanced gut microbiome
  • People with bipolar or schizophrenia also have elevated levels of antibodies against Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast associated with Crohn’s disease. Many are also sensitive to lactose and gluten, which can trigger inflammation32
  • Individuals hospitalized with acute mania have increased exposure to antibiotics.33 While the authors suggested this finding means these patients tend to have higher rates of bacterial infections, this link could also point at the hazards associated with killing off your microbiome with antibiotics, which decimate both good and bad bacteria without discrimination

Holistic Mental Health Suggestions

Regardless of the nature or severity of your mental health problem, in order to successfully treat it, you need to take a holistic approach. Rarely will medication be the sole answer. Following are some guidelines and suggestions — presented in no particular order — to keep in mind.

Withdraw from antidepressants and other drugs under medical supervision

If you’re currently on an antidepressant and want to get off it, ideally you’ll want to have the cooperation of your prescribing physician. Some are happy to help you to withdraw if they know you’re going to be responsible about it.

Others may not want to bother, or they don’t believe you can get off the medication. As noted by Cass, you may need to do some reading in order to be better prepared.

Dr. Joseph Glennmullen from Harvard wrote a very helpful book on how to withdraw called “The Antidepressant Solution.” You can also turn to an organization with a referral list of doctors who practice more biologically or naturally, such as the American College for Advancement in Medicine

Once you have the cooperation of your prescribing physician, start lowering the dosage of the medication you’re taking. As noted by Cass, there are protocols for gradually reducing the dose that your doctor should be well aware of. At the same time, start taking a multivitamin.

Start taking low doses. If you’re quitting an SSRI under doctor supervision, Cass suggests going on a low dose of 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). For bipolar patients, holistic psychiatrists may prescribe nutritional supplements such as fish oil (omega-3 fats), inositol, niacin, tryptophan and others, depending on your individual needs.

Address Lyme disease

Bipolar symptoms can also be related to Lyme disease, so if Lyme infection is present, that needs to be addressed, also by a more functionally oriented doctor.

Combat inflammation

Keeping inflammation in check is an important part of any effective treatment plan. If you’re gluten sensitive, you will need to remove all gluten from your diet. A food sensitivity test can help ascertain this. Switching to a whole food diet as described in my optimal nutrition plan can go a long way toward lowering the inflammation level in your body and brain.

Optimize your vitamin D level

Vitamin D deficiency is another important biological factor that can play a significant role in mental health, especially depression. A double-blind randomized trial34 published in 2008 concluded that supplementing with high doses of vitamin D “seems to ameliorate these symptoms indicating a possible causal relationship.”

Recent research35 also claims that low vitamin D levels appear to be associated with suicide attempts.

Ideally, maintain your vitamin D level between 40 and 60 ng/mL year-round. If you cannot get sufficient sun exposure to maintain this level, taking an oral vitamin D3 supplement would be advisable. Just remember to also take vitamin K2 and magnesium, as these all work together.

Nourish your gut microbiome

Reducing gut inflammation is imperative when addressing mental health issues,36 so optimizing your gut flora is a critical piece. To promote healthy gut flora, increase your consumption of fiber and probiotic foods, such as fermented vegetables, kimchee, natto, kefir and others.

Clean up your sleep hygiene

Make sure you’re getting enough high quality sleep, as sleep is essential for optimal mood and mental health. A fitness tracker that tracks your sleep can be a useful tool. According to Cass, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep can be due to elevated cortisol levels, so if you have trouble sleeping, you may want to get your saliva cortisol level tested with an Adrenal Stress Index test.

If you’re already taking hormones, you can try applying a small dab of progesterone cream on your neck or face when you awaken during the night and can’t call back to sleep. Another alternative is to take adaptogens, herbal products that help lower cortisol and adjust your body to stress.

There are also other excellent herbs and amino acids that help you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Meditation can also help.

Add to your self-help tool bag

Slowing your breathing using the Butyenko breathing technique increases your partial pressure of carbon dioxide (CO2), which has enormous psychological benefits and can quickly reduce anxiety.

Other helpful tools include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is well-studied, and research shows it can significantly increase positive emotions and decrease negative emotional states. One scientific review found statistically significant benefits in using EFT for anxiety, depression, PTSD and phobias.

EFT is particularly powerful for treating stress and anxiety because it specifically targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.37,38 For serious or complex issues, seek out a qualified health care professional that is trained in EFT39 to help guide you through the process.

Eat real food and avoid all processed foods

High sugar and starchy nonfiber carbohydrates lead to excessive insulin release, which can result in falling blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia. In turn, hypoglycemia causes your brain to secrete glutamate in levels that can cause agitation, depression, anger, anxiety and panic attacks. Sugar also fans the flames of inflammation in your body.

In addition to being high in sugar and grains, processed foods also contain a variety of additives that can affect your brain function and mental state, especially MSG and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.

Recent research also shows that glyphosate, used in large quantities on genetically engineered crops like corn, soy and sugar beets, limits your body’s ability to detoxify foreign chemical compounds.

As a result, the damaging effects of those toxins are magnified, potentially resulting in a wide variety of diseases, including brain disorders that have both psychological and behavioral effects.

Get adequate B vitamins

Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to depression and affects one in four people. Niacin (B3), B6, biotin (B8) and folate (B9) deficiencies can also produce psychiatric effects.

Get plenty of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats

The animal-based omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are crucial for good brain function and mental health.40,41 Good sources include fatty fish that are also low in mercury, such as wild caught Alaskan salmon, sardines and anchovies.

If you don’t eat these types of fish on a regular basis, it would be advisable to take a high-quality omega-3 supplement such as krill oil, which has a number of benefits over fish oil, including better absorption.42

Beneficial herbs and supplements: SAMe, 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort

SAMe is an amino acid derivative that occurs naturally in all cells. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression. 5-HTP is another natural alternative to traditional antidepressants.

When your body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. The evidence suggests 5-HTP outperforms a placebo when it comes to alleviating depression43 — more than can be said about antidepressants.

One caveat: Anxiety and social phobias can worsen with higher levels of serotonin, so it may be contraindicated if your anxiety is already high. St. John’s Wort has also been shown to provide relief from mild depressive symptoms.

Get adequate daily exercise

Studies show there is a strong correlation between improved mood and aerobic capacity. There’s also a growing acceptance that the mind-body connection is very real, and that maintaining good physical health can significantly lower your risk of developing depression in the first place.

Exercising creates new GABA-producing neurons that help induce a natural state of calm. It also boosts your levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which help buffer the effects of

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