Researcher Finds Bipolar Disorder Worsens With Weight
> 5/7/2008 1:26:21 PM

Many mental health medications can cause physical health to deteriorate. Antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers like lithium often bring substantial weight gain and with that a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. New research, presented by Dr. Cynthia Calkin at last week's American Psychiatric Association Meeting, suggests that the interaction between bipolar disorder and weight is a two-way street rather than simply a matter of mental illness and medication causing physical problems.

Dr. Calkin studied 276 patients from the Maritime Bipolar Registry. She found that obese patients were significantly more likely to have severe and chronic mood problems. Even just being overweight moderately lowered scores on the Global Assessment of Functioning Scale, suggesting that fat ratios really do correlate with illness severity. Greater weight also raised the risk of co-occuring mental illnesses like generalized anxiety disorder.

This study could not determine precisely how weight interacts with bipolar disorder, but it did supply a clear line of investigation for future researchers by discovering that greater weight meant less response to lithium. This may mean either that excessive weight impedes the body's ability to properly use lithium, or that heavy people have poor metabolisms that cannot adequately handle fat or lithium.

Findings such as this should awaken doctors to the importance of treating mental and physical problems as parts of an interacting system. Medication can cause physical problems which can in turn affect the way that medication works. The mind and the body are extremely complex interlocking systems that can be best treated by addressing the whole picture rather than focusing on pieces in isolation.

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