Could Bipolar Disorder Be Poison to the Brain?
Author: Justin Mckibben
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a mental illness formerly known as manic depression. This complex and severe disorder is characterized with varying periods of elevated moods followed by significant depression. There is a strong genetic component to bipolar disorder that affects 2% of the world population. The frequency of mania and depression may alternate throughout an individual’s lifetime, and usually the illness first occurs in the early 20’s. Data from recent studies have now indicated that the impact of BD could be detrimental to the blood and literally poison the brain, undermining its ability to function.
Today physicians have begun grouping patients suffering from bipolar disorder in 2 categories:
- Early-stage Bipolar
Early-stage BD patients are classified as those who have had fewer episodes of either mania or depression
- Late-stage Bipolar
Late-stage patients have had more episodes with more severe effects and are less likely to respond to treatment
Unlike with most illnesses, these separations of classification have more to do with frequency of episode recurrence and severity instead of how long the patient has been suffering.
The Bipolar Brain
The brain of patients struggling with bipolar disorder is different from the average brain in that it shows changes such as reduction in volume and neuroprogression.
Neuroprogession is defined as a pathological reorganization of an otherwise normal central nervous system. In bipolar disorder the part of the brain impacted is the process the brain uses to re-write its neuronal connections- a development typically associated to:
- Recovery from brain damage
In bipolar patients, the brain essentially rewires itself through repeated mood episodes of dramatic mood shift to be even more vulnerable to life stresses.
Bipolar Blood Levels
Past research has concluded that blood levels in bipolar disorder patients show several markers associated to recurrent mood episodes that can be associated with other conditions, such as some proteins in the brain of bipolar disorder patients have been shown to be abnormally lower, particularly proteins that:
- Promote neuron growth and survival
- Help establishing neuron connections
- Help the brain cope with environmental changes
- Send signals to other cell components
If these blood markers can be associated to the severity and frequency of mood episodes in bipolar disorder patients, then the question becomes is it possible that these changes in blood markers are also connected to changes observed in the brain of BD patients. Is the brain chemistry itself at higher risks?
A study was conducted by a collective of researchers led by two scientists:
- Fabio Klamt at the Laboratory of Cellular Biochemistry at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)
- Flávio Kapczinski at the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry at Clinics Hospital of Porto Alegre (HCPA), in Brazil
Through their studies these teams exposed differentiated neurons to blood serum from either healthy normal individuals or bipolar patients. What they discovered was that bipolar patients who had neurons exposed to serum had a significant loss in the density of neurites, which is used to estimate the number of neuron connections, compared to healthy individuals.
Also, when they compared serum from early-stage and late-stage BD patients to healthy people separately they found:
- No difference in neurite density between early-stage patients and those exposed to healthy controls’ serum.
- A significant difference remained in the neurite density from late-stage patients and other the other two
So what does all this science stuff mean?
Well, according to Fabio Klamt,
“Our results indicate that the blood of BD patients is toxic to brain cells and affects the connectivity ability of neurons. Considering our previous knowledge on the association between mood episodes and blood toxicity, we believe that the more episodes a patient has, the more cellular components are produced that impair the brain’s ability to deal with environmental changes, inflammation and stress,”
This is the first study to show the toxic effects of BD serum on human neuronal cells. For the first time there is a scientific indication that the chemical reaction of the blood to bipolar disorder and episodes of depression and mania can actually be poisoning the brain!
To break it down, the thought process here is actually pretty intimidating because it is telling us there is some evidence that a mental health disorder actually causes progressive damage to the brain; that the body is further traumatizing itself and weakening its resistance to trauma. Researchers suggest that future studies into bipolar disorder should focus on finding medication that can protect brain cells for those with bipolar disorder from the toxic threat of their own blood.
Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder often go hand in hand with substance abuse and drug addiction. Holistic recovery programs offer dual diagnosis treatment, which is designed to understand the overlapping nature of bipolar disorder and substance abuse, and with the right recovery plan to address them both effectively.
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