There is no one specific cause of bipolar disorder, new research finds.
It is not down to one chemical imbalance or one specific life event.
Rather, bipolar has many common features.
The results come from over 1,100 people who have been studied for over ten years.
Over 730 had bipolar disorder, the rest did not.
Bipolar disorder involves very severe mood swings; it is a condition of extreme emotional states.
Someone experiencing the disorder will have periods of great energy and exhilaration at times.
These could last weeks or often several months.
At other times they will experience very deep depressions.
Professor Melvin McInnis, the study’s first author, said:
“There are many routes to this disease, and many routes through it.
We have found that there are many biological mechanisms which drive the disease, and many interactive external influences on it.
All of these elements combine to affect the disease as patients experience it.”
Some of the key findings were that among those with bipolar disorder:
- Migraines were 3.5 times more likely.
- Childhood trauma was more likely.
- Higher intake of saturated fats.
- Lower levels of key bacteria in the gut.
- Poor sleep among women with the condition.
- Strong neurotic tendencies in their personalities.
- Cognitive abilities were lower.
- Two genes were important: CACNA1 and ANK3.
The researchers found that while bipolar disorder tends to run in families, there were no specific genes at its heart.
Professor McInnis said:
“If there was a gene with a strong effect like what we see in breast cancer, for instance, we would have found it.
We hope this new framework will provide a new approach to understand this disorder, and other complex diseases, by developing models that can guide a management strategy for clinicians and patients, and give researchers consistent variables to measure and assess.
Bipolar disorder has a lot to teach humankind about other illnesses, because it covers the breadths of human mood, emotion and behavior like no other condition.
What we can learn in bipolar about all these factors will be directly applicable to monitoring other disorders, and personalizing the approach to managing them.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology (McInnis et al., 2017).