Comorbidity and Brain Damage

June 8, 2007

Not exactly the most cheerful bits of news, but at least both indirectly offer some hope of increased understanding. The first article I stumbled across, titled “Study suggests bipolar disorder may cause progressive brain damage,” covers an older study from 2003. The study focused on the hippocampus, and an amino acid involved in neurogenesis and insulation of neurons in the brain; and found that not only did people with bipolar disorder tend to have less of this amino acid than the control group, but also that the people who had bipolar disorder longer tended to have even less, suggesting a link between decreased levels of the amino acid and duration of illness. Since the hippocampus is involved in memory, emotional regulation and spacial navigation, it’s a pretty important part of the brain to progressively lose function from. The hope offered by the study is that monitoring levels of this amino acid might help to physically determine the efficacy of treatments for bipolar disorder.

The second article comes to us from ScienceDaily, and is titled “Comorbidities Common In Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Link.” The article – though recent – isn’t itself all that informative; but does report that more research is being done on the genetic link to our comorbid conditions, rather than just bipolar disorder itself. Along with offering possible hope in better handling of these conditions in the future, through increased understanding of their origin, I think studies like this are important in showing that bipolar disorder is not just a ‘mental’ illness, but a physical disorder that can pack cancer, heart disease, and other ailments along with it.



  1. right its not the ECT, Lithium, or other stuff psychiatry does, its the disease right

  2. Markps2, thank you for your comment :-)

    I have to admit that your comment was a bit difficult for me to understand at first reading. If I misinterpret your meanings here in my response, please feel free to let me know :-)

    I think I’ve heard something similar in the past, that some of the treatments for psychiatric illnesses actually prolong the illness, make it stronger, or even create new illnesses (this was a concern of my mother’s, when I talked to her about seeking help for depression). I think the above articles, although painting a grim picture of just how <em>ill</em> a bipolar person can be, take some strides in demonstrating that bipolar disorder isn’t some money-making figment of a psychiatrist’s imagination, and that the ECT, lithium and other treatments are actually there to <em>help</em> us, rather than prolong or intensify our condition.

    The condition, the illness, is real – so, too, are the treatments.

  3. I recommend taking a look at the Furious Seasons site.It’s linked up on mine for easy viewing. The site
    is written by a patient and award winning investigative journalist, and there is much information there, as well as an enormous side bar of
    links that will keep you well-informed and reading for

    Good luck, take care.

  4. Thank you for your suggestion, Stephany – I had a look at your site and couldn’t readily find the link you were talking about; so I’ll provide a link to the Furious Seasons blog here :-)

  5. Sure illness is real but it is not a brain chemical imbalance. There is no lab test for any brain chemical imbalance. Before the present day medication for everything, people recognized feeling lonely and needing to be loved. There is no pill for that. The music and lyrics in virtually every pop song in the 1950s,60s,70s, was about lonelyness and love. Today what is it? The pharma companies have convinced many people their brains are chemically imbalanced and need fixing.

  6. Okay, Mark, thanks for clarifying your position :-) While I would agree that tending to basic emotional needs doesn’t require the use of medications, these articles aren’t describing a simple emotional need – they are discussing a physical, biochemical brain disorder.

    There is no lab test for any brain chemical imbalance.

    There aren’t any yet, but as the articles referenced in this post demonstrate, along with one or two more of my posts, we aren’t far from having such tests. As it is, brain scans are already demonstrating physical differences between bipolar and ‘healthy’ minds – a ‘test’ convincing enough that it convinced a US judge to rule that bipolar disorder is a physical illness (Fitts v. Federal National Mortgage Association).

    Before the present day medication for everything, people recognized feeling lonely and needing to be loved.

    Sorry to spoil your romantic notions of the past; but once upon a time, people considered epilepsy to be a demonic possession, and tried to ‘cure’ it with exorcism. A famous case of this happening, and resulting in the death of the afflicted, is that of Anneliese Michel, who died in 1976. Psychotics and maniacs (at least the ones that didn’t rise to political power) probably fared just as poorly. In the 1930’s, frontal lobotomies were common. In the 1940’s, along with frontal lobotomies, shock therapy and insulin shock therapy came into wide practice. The 1950’s gave us the advent of lithium usage for bipolar disorder (the first paper on the topic was written in 1949). In the 1960’s, while many people were off in the hills hugging each other and preventing loneliness, they were doing so with the added enthusiasm provided by psychoactive drugs. The pop songs you reference were about love and loneliness because that’s what sold records – it seems to still sell records, so I really don’t see how the pop charts reflect medical treatments for bipolar disorder.

    Bipolar disorder has been recorded in Western society as early as the year 30 CE … if roughly two thousand years of hugging and providing company haven’t been enough to stave off the effects of bipolar disorder, I’m in favor of trying the chemical approach. Incidentally, pills aren’t the only part of the bipolar treatment plan: talk therapies, personal routine maintenance and hugs / familial support are also still very much part of the program; aspects that have been refined and expanded on since the advent of Freud’s psychoanalytic method in the early 1900’s.

  7. I have no doubt that DRUGS damaged my brain.

    I also imagine that the study’s subjects were not drug naive, so it’s impossible to conclude it was the disease that caused the brain damage and not the drugs.

    Just stumbled across your site…it’s interesting.

  8. Giana, I’m also dealing with damage from medications (one in particular) from my past. That being said, I’m not blindly subscribing to what pharmaceutical companies preach, nor do I suggest anywhere that anyone else should. I am saying that I have no problem with the idea of using chemicals as part of a treatment plan for what I regard as a physical illness.

    “…so it’s impossible to conclude it was the disease that caused the brain damage and not the drugs.”

    It’s also impossible to conclude that the drugs caused brain damage – especially when the study acknowledges that at least one drug is shown to increase the presence of NAA. But then this study doesn’t purport to conclude anything, only suggest relationships observed through observation ;-)

    Considering the difference in perspectives we share in some respects (I’ve also perused your blog), that you find this blog interesting is something I’ll take as a compliment.

  9. We may have different opinions, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating a good brain that thinks.

  10. Likewise :-)

  11. i really dont know what to think i was diagnosed with bipolar over 12 years ago , i had an abusive childhood mentally and physically then i had a short relationship with a man who did the same but was severely beaten over the head ,with a bone leg of a cow he got for his dog….i bleed n past out ,i was confused and had memory loss severley ,post traumatic stress , terrified and now acute agoraphobic ,people say im coagulable n now take quetiapine ,zopiclone ,and lorazapam…….am i crazy or mentally ill please help x

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