Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of bipolar disorder--a review of the evidence

J Affect Disord. 2008 Sep;110(1-2):16-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2008.03.015. Epub 2008 May 5.


A growing number of patients with mood disorders are using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interventions. In this paper, we review the published scientific evidence on the benefits and risks of CAM for the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder. Since very few studies of CAM have involved patients with bipolar disorder, most available evidence is derived from trials conducted in patients with major depressive disorder. The use of omega-3 fatty acids has been studied in two controlled studies in bipolar disorder while St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), S-adenosyl-l-methionine (SAMe), and acupuncture have been studied in a series of randomized controlled trials in patients with major depression. Overall, the best evidence supports the use of St. John's wort for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. SAMe may also be effective for depression. However, both of these products have the potential to induce mania; the extent of this risk needs to be quantified. St. John's wort can also interact with a variety of medications. Evidence regarding the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids or acupuncture is inconsistent. Data regarding other CAM interventions (e.g., aromatherapy massage, massage therapy, yoga) are almost entirely lacking. In conclusion, better studies are needed before CAM interventions can be recommended to patients with bipolar disorder. In the meantime, patients need to be informed about the possible risks associated with the use of these interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / methods*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypericum / chemistry
  • Phytotherapy / methods
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / analogs & derivatives
  • S-Adenosylmethionine / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Plant Extracts
  • Plant Preparations
  • adenosyl-methionine 1,4-butanedisulfonate
  • S-Adenosylmethionine