Bipolar Disorder: Stress, Cortisol, Prevention

Genetic predispositions to emotional and mental health disorders are the real deal. But a predisposition doesn’t equate to a future diagnosis.

It’s often a matter of side-stepping a disorder by making environmental adjustments.

Here’s an example. An infant may come into this world with a genetic predisposition to alcohol abuse and dependence. However, if she/he never drinks a drop (the environmental adjustment), the disorder won’t present.

It’s no big surprise – genetic predisposition is a factor in the development (I didn’t say diagnosis) of bipolar disorder. A Canadian research team has come up with one such predisposition.

Theirs is the first study to show that elevated cortisol levels are much easier to come by for a child of even just one bipolar parent (vs. a child with neither parent bipolar).

These over-the-top cortisol levels manifested as a result of an environmental factor – exposure to typical childhood life-stressors. So you could say that these children are genetically predisposed to poor stress coping abilities – as well as bipolar disorder.

(Incidentally, research tells us that children who have just one parent with bipolar disorder are four times more likely to develop a mood disorder. That could be bipolar disorder or unipolar depression.)

Interestingly enough, the research team had already determined that cortisol levels of children with a bipolar parent ran higher than non-bipolar-parent children.

They did more work with these very same children – measuring cortisol levels during chronic and one-time stress episodes. And they found reactionary cortisol levels were unusually high, as well.

So it’s a matter of a biological sensitivity to stress, and the subsequent cortisol spike. And that may well explain why these children develop a mood disorder(s).

No matter how you cut it, the stress/cortisol issue is a major indicator of future illness.

Prevention

According to the study’s senior author Mark Ellenbogen…

“We believe this sensitivity develops during childhood and our suspicion is that if you could teach both parents and their offspring on how to cope with stress, how to deal with problems before they turn into larger significant stressors and difficulties, this would have a profound impact.”

Makes sense to me. So what can you do to keep your child’s (and your) stress – cortisol – levels under management? Here’s a short list…

  • Consider Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Maintain a healthy diet, to include sufficient protein intake
  • Minimize the ingestion of sugars
  • Minimize (avoid) caffeine intake
  • Consider anti-stress supplements (B vitamins, Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, etc.)
  • Exercise
  • Get enough sleep
  • Grab a massage
  • Meditate
  • Laugh
  • Okay, for adults only – safe and responsible sexual intercourse is really helpful

That’s All Folks!

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2 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder: Stress, Cortisol, Prevention

  1. Ahhh … that is interesting … bipolar disorder does have a gentic link as you mentioned here. (Also, I recall reading that from either one of your previous blogs or from one of Ambers.) And like most things, situational events can play a huge part in either encouraging or preventing their onset. And this is so with bipolar disorder too it seems.

    I like that you listed some of the things that might reduce the non-genetic stressors.

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