Herbs for Bipolar Disorder

By Jim Haggerty, M.D.

Herbal Remedies for Bipolar Disorder

Many herbs have been used to treat different conditions through the ages. Herbalists call these substances nervines, and some may prove useful for treating specific symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Of all the herbs, the nervines group of plant extracts are among the strongest and so are the most likely to cause serious side effects. Because of this possibility, you should always consult with your physician first before trying any of these herbs — especially if you are already taking medication for bipolar disorder.

The common types of nervines that have been tried by people with bipolar disorder include:

  • Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa). A nervous system depressant and sedative, sometimes used by people with autoimmune conditions for its anti-inflammatory effects. Its active ingredient appears to bind to estrogen receptor sites, so it may cause hormonal activity.
  • Damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca). A traditional remedy for depression. As its Latin name indicates, it is also believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Whatever the case may be there, it does seem to act on the hormonal system. Its energizing quality might be dangerous for bipolar patients.
  • Gingko biloba. An extract of the gingko tree, advertised as an herb that can improve your memory. There is some clinical evidence for this claim. It is an antioxidant, and is prescribed in Germany for treatment of dementia. It is believed to increase blood flow to the brain.
  • Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium). Has an energizing effect that may be helpful to people whose depression is accompanied by extreme fatigue and lethargy.
  • Grapeseed oil and pycogenol. Both are extra-powerful antioxidants. (Pycogenol is derived from marine pine trees.)
  • Gotu kola (Centella asiatica, Hydrocotyl asiatica). An Ayurvedic herbal stimulant sometimes recommended for depression and anxiety.
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, Liquiritia officinalis). Boosts hormone production, including hormones active in the digestive tract and brain.
  • Sarsaparilla (Hemidesmus indicus). Like licorice, it seems to affect hormone production as well as settling the stomach and calming the nerves.
  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum). Has gained popularity as an herbal antidepressant. It has the backing of a decent amount of research. Those choosing to use this remedy should follow the same precautions as with SSRIs and MAOIs, two families of pharmaceutical antidepressants. It can also cause increased sensitivity to light. It is available by prescription in Germany, where it is the most widely used antidepressant. It is potentially dangerous to use St. John’s Wort with prescription antidepressants or any other medication that could affect serotonin.

Although most herbal remedies are relatively safe, you should consult with your doctor before trying one of these. Some herbs interact badly with certain medications, and can lead to serious and possibly harmful side effects.

 

APA Reference
Haggerty, J. (2007). Herbs for Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/herbs-for-bipolar-disorder/000890
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.