Bipolar Patients Lack DHA

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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Researchers measured the blood levels of 15 different fatty acids in 42 patients who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and compared them to 57 control patients. The levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were significantly decreased in the bipolar group compared to the control patients.  DHA is the most important essential fatty acid for brain health in any person; bipolar patients simply don’t have enough.

Interestingly, bipolar patients had higher levels of other omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA is a fatty acid that is 18 carbons long with four unsaturated bonds. EPA is 20 carbons long with five unsaturated bonds. DHA is 22 carbons long with six unsaturated bonds.

When DHA is not consumed in the diet it is possible to elongate ALA into EPA and then into DHA, requiring enzymatic processes. This is not a preferred way to get DHA, as this process is not very efficient in general, and some may really struggle with it. This especially appears to be the case in bipolar disorder, where ALA and EPA are elevated compared to control patients, but DHA is lower. This means bipolar patients have trouble elongating shorter omega-3 fatty acids into DHA. 

Any person prone to mood swings should really load up on DHA, especially in the winter months, as it is required for brain function in general. The lack of it can contribute to significant mood problems.

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