The discovery that people with bipolar disorder also tend to have lower levels of some omega-3 fatty acids opens up the possibility that dietary interventions could be used in the treatment of the mood disorder.
Erika Saunders, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, and colleagues enrolled 27 subjects with symptomatic bipolar disorder and 31 healthy controls. The team measured levels of omega-3 and omega-6, as well as self-reported information on consumption of fatty acids and consumption of bipolar medications.
Free fatty acids crossed the blood-brain barrier, though fatty acids bound to protein did not. And in participants with bipolar, the ratio of EPA, a free-circulating omega-3 fatty acid, to bound EPA was less than in the control subjects, the researchers reported in the journal Bipolar Disorders.
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for communication between cells in the brain. The study showed the a lower free-to-bound EPA ratio was associated with more bipolar symptoms, particularly mania and suicidal ideation. Fatty acids also play a role in the body’s immune and inflammatory systems.
Also, there was no difference in self-reported fatty acid consumption between the two study groups.
“We are actively pursuing the next step in this line of inquiry to get to the point where we know what changes in diets are going to help people with bipolar disorder so they can have another option beyond the medications that are currently available,” Saunders said in a statement.
A new study finds that people with bipolar disorder have lower levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids that cross the blood-brain barrier than people who do not.
Investigators from Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health believe the finding could have future implications for dietary interventions for the disorder. Experts say that fatty acids are a major area of interest in bipolar disorder and depression because of their biological importance in the brain.
Prior studies have shown that fatty acid supplementation may be useful for unipolar depression, but the data has been more mixed for bipolar disorder.