So compelling is the evidence for a nutritional approach to bipolar disorder that it's a wonder why more physicians and psychiatrists aren't flocking to learn more. But there's strong official resistance to the idea that simple nutrients can help. Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent to the UK Department of Heath, has seized and banned supplies of the nutritional formula Empowerplus, which has a good track-record for treating all kinds of mental disorders, including bipolar disease. Since 1996, Empowerplus' manufacturer Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd has fought to obtain scientific validation of the product through independent research and clinical studies. This suggests that, unlike many nutritional formulas, Empowerplus does have research to back up the claims made for it.
The results of several studies are encouraging (J Clin Psychiatry, 2003; 64: 338; J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol, 2002; 12: 205-19). In one, those who completed a six-month trial reduced symptoms by up to 66 per cent, and decreased the need for medications by more than 50 per cent (J Clin Psychiatry, 2001; 62: 936-44).
Truehope says thousands of individuals with bipolar disorder and other mental disorders have been helped by Empowerplus and is actively fighting to lift the ban. However, none of the studies is placebo-controlled, so all fall short of the 'gold standard' for medical trials.
Scientists at the Pfeiffer Center, while acknowledging that Empowerplus is useful in some cases of bipolar disorder, also warn that a scattergun approach may be unhelpful because not all biochemical imbalances are caused by deficiencies. Indeed, many involve overloads of certain nutrients, and careless supplementation can make some people worse. Elevated copper, for example, is associated with paranoia (Intern Rev Neurobiol, 1972; Suppl 1: 141-85), excess phenylalanine (in the form of aspartame) can worsen depression (Biol Psychiatry, 1993; 34: 13-7) and excess levels of vanadium may be a factor in the disorder (Nutr Health, 1984; 3: 79-85; Psychol Med, 1981; 11: 249-56). Empowerplus contains all three. Yet, even with this caveat in mind, the Canadian government's response to the supplement, which has clearly helped some individuals, seems heavy-handed.