Researchers are investigating if commonly available over-the-counter medications can work in combination with prescribed medications to improve clinical outcomes.
In one study, researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are analyzing aspirin as an add-on therapy. Aspirin has known anti-inflammatory properties, a characteristic that may reduce inflammation in the brain that may be involved in the development of symptoms in bipolar disorder.
Investigators will also test N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), an over-the-counter antioxidant, to see if the drug may improve treatment for a variety of conditions such as bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and diabetes.
In two previous placebo-controlled Australian studies, NAC was shown to reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Although investigators are uncertain of the exact mechanism by which the drug works, experts believe NAC’s antioxidant properties may improve the functioning of brain cells and chemicals involved in bipolar disorder and depression.
“The study is interesting because we’re looking at a commonly available medication that might help bipolar disorder. There’s a growing body of literature that suggests depression involves some mild inflammation, and stress has a role as well,” said Jair Soares, M.D., principal investigator.
“NAC may help the brain remain fresher longer. Aspirin, by alleviating possible inflammation in brain neurons, may keep these cells healthier and functioning better.”
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects 5.7 million adults in the United States. The disorder causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and the ability to carry out daily tasks, alternating between the euphoria and risky behavior of mania and the extremely sad or hopeless state called a depressive episode.
Current medications successfully control the symptoms of about 50-60 percent of bipolar patients. “Bipolar depression causes substantial problems for people, affecting their concentration, memory, sleep and energy level,” said Soares.
Researchers hope the adjunctive treatments will improve care for individuals not helped by traditional medication regimens.
“Sometimes they try the medications currently available with poor results. This is an adjunctive treatment to see if it helps in combination with the medications they are already taking.”
The study is double-blinded, randomized and placebo-controlled. In addition to their current medications, patients will receive NAC, aspirin, placebo, or NAC and aspirin together.