Antioxidant N-Acetylcysteine Improves Working Memory in Patients with Psychosis

June 20, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

NACIn a 2017 article in the journal Psychological Medicine, researcher Marta Rapado-Castro and colleagues reported that among 58 patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis, those who took two grams per day of the antioxidant n-acetylcysteine (NAC) showed improvements in working memory after six months compared to those who took placebo over the same study period.

Antipsychotic medications can typically reduce psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations, but cognitive symptoms such as problems with learning, memory, or information processing may remain. NAC, which is sold over-the-counter as a nutritional supplement, seemed to improve these symptoms.

The researchers suggest that larger studies of NAC are needed, particularly to determine whether giving NAC to patients during their first episode of psychosis could prevent cognitive decline from occurring at all during the course of their illness.

NAC has been found to have a range of benefits, including reducing substance abuse and interfering with habit-based behaviors such as compulsive hair-pulling, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and gambling.
Researcher Michael Berk, a co-author of the study, reported in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2008 that NAC could also improve depressive symptoms in bipolar disorder and negative symptoms in schizophrenia.

Editor’s Note: Since cognitive deficits are common in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, using NAC in addition to antipsychotic medications could be a useful tool to address these types of symptoms.

Specific Probiotics Reduce Re-Hospitalizations for Bipolar Disorder

June 7, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

taking pill

In a 2018 article published in the journal Bipolar Disorders, researcher Faith Dickerson and colleagues reported that in a small study of 66 people who had been hospitalized for mania, taking specific probiotic supplements upon their release reduced re-hospitalizations compared to taking placebo.

The study followed patients for 24 weeks after their hospitalization. They were randomized to receive either the combination of Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis strain Bb12 or placebo in addition to their regular medications. While 17 of the 33 participants in the placebo group (51.5%) had at least one re-hospitalization during the study period, only eight (24.2%) of the participants taking probiotics had a re-hospitalization. The duration of the re-hospitalizations was also shorter for those taking probiotics (2.8 days on average versus 8.3 days for those taking placebo).

In a personal communication to this editor (Robert M. Post), Chris Aiken, Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, provided some clarifying details to this editor about the use of probiotics to reduce manic relapse. Aiken explained, “Apparently, it’s important to get both the right species (e.g. Bifidobacterium lactis) and the right strain (e.g. Bb-12) in choosing a probiotic. The study mentions that one of the strains (Bb-12) is patented and only available in Europe, but it has been licensed to a few U.S. companies.

“I found two products that contain the exact strains in the study and wrote this up for patients: In [the] study [noted above], a probiotic capsule containing Bifidobacterium lactis Bb-12 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG lowered the risk of psychiatric hospitalization threefold. [Both] strains are available in the supplement Emergen-C and in a liquid probiotic designed for infants, Culturelle Baby Grow and Thrive. The infant serving would suffice for adults as well. You could also get the two strains by combining two separate probiotic capsules: Align Daily Immune Support and Culturelle Digestive Health Daily Priobiotic.”

Editor’s Note: We are grateful to Dr. Aiken for this added information. We also found that USANA probiotic also contains both strains used in the study. Recent research has found more and more connections between inflammatory processes and mental health. This study contributes to our understanding of the connection between gut health and the brain.

NAD Precursor May Improve Cardiovascular Health

June 5, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

heartNAD, or nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, is found in all living cells. Its oxidized form, NAD+, rose in popularity as a nutritional supplement following a 2013 Harvard study that suggested it might slow aging in mice. A 2018 article by researcher Christopher R. Martens and colleagues in the journal Nature Communications reports that a precursor vitamin to NAD+ called nicotinamide riboside (NR) can stimulate NAD+ metabolism in healthy middle-aged and older adults compared to placebo, which might improve cardiovascular health. In the crossover study, participants received NR or placebo for six weeks, and then received the other option for a second six-week period. NR was associated with increased NAD+ metabolism.

The researchers suggest that more research is needed to investigate whether chronic NR supplementation might be able to reduce blood pressure and arterial stiffness.

Third Study Suggests Cariprazine Is Effective in Bipolar Depression

June 2, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments, Potential Treatments · Comment 

cariprazine

The atypical antipsychotic drug cariprazine (sold under the name Vraylar in the US) is currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of schizophrenia and manic or mixed episodes of bipolar disorder. Based on recent successful phase 3 trials in bipolar depression, the pharmaceutical companies that produce cariprazine, Allergan and Gedeon Richter, plan to apply for a change in FDA labeling later this year to reflect the drug’s apparent ability to treat bipolar depression as well.

While many drugs can prevent or treat mania, treating bipolar depression has typically been more of a challenge. The most recent 6-week trial of cariprazine in 493 patients showed that a dose 1.5mg/day was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing depression ratings. (A dose of 3mg/day did not show superiority over placebo as it had in previous trials of cariprazine.)

Side effects reported in the trial were mild and included restless legs, nausea, and fatigue. Five percent of those who received cariprazine discontinued the drug due to side effects, compared to three percent of those who received placebo.

The mechanism by which cariprazine improves depression is not yet clear. The drug is a dopamine partial agonist, but unlike aripiprazole (Abilify) and brexpiprazole (Rexulti), which have more potent effects on D2 receptors than on D3 receptors, cariprazine is more potent at dopamine D3 receptors. Whether this difference accounts for the positive effects in bipolar depression that aripiprazole and brexpiprazole do not have remains to be seen.

Three-Minute ‘Theta Burst’ Treatment as Effective as 37-Minute RTMS

May 30, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

rTMS treatment

A variation on repeated transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) called intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) may be able to deliver the same benefits in a tenth of the time. RTMS is a non-invasive treatment in which a magnetic coil placed near the skull transmits electrical signals to the brain. It is effective in depression and has been shown to improve aspects of schizophrenia, autism, and addictions as well.

A typical rTMS session lasts for 37.5 minutes and consists of high frequency (10 Hz) stimulation. Access to the treatment remains somewhat limited, so the newer form of iTBS treatment may help more people access treatment by allowing clinicians to treat more patients in a day.

The 2018 study, published by Daniel Blumberger and colleagues in the journal The Lancet, compared iTBS to standard rTMS and evaluated the effectiveness, safety, and tolerability of the new treatment compared to the old. 414 patients aged 18–65 with major depression that had persisted despite treatment with several antidepressant options were randomized to receive either iTBS or rTMS delivered to their left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. They received the given treatment five days/week for four to six weeks.

Patients who received iTBS showed a nearly identical level of improvement in depression to those who received rTMS. Self-reports of pain intensity were worse among those who received iTBS, but the dropout rate was not higher for that group. Headaches were the most common side effect reported, and rates were similar across both groups. The authors judged iTBS to be a comparable, non-inferior alternative to rTMS for people with major depression.

Among participants who received iTBS, depression improved significantly, with 32 percent reporting a remission of depression symptoms. Those who received standard rTMS had a remission rate of 27 percent.

Treatment Approaches to Childhood-Onset Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Disorder

May 14, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Dear readers interested in the treatment of young children with bipolar disorder and multiple other symptoms: In 2017, BNN Editor Robert M. Post and colleagues published an open access paper in the journal The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders titled “A Multi-Symptomatic Child: How to Track and Sequence Treatment.” The article describes a single case of childhood-onset bipolar disorder shared with us via our Child Network, a research program in which parents can create weekly ratings of their children’s mood and behavioral symptoms, and share the long-term results in graphic form with their children’s physicians.

Here we summarize potential treatment approaches for this child, which may be of use to other children with similar symptoms.

We present a 9-year-old girl whose symptoms of depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional behavior, and mania were rated on a weekly basis in the Child Network under a protocol approved by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Institutional Review Board. The girl, whose symptoms were rated consistently for almost one year, remained inadequately responsive to lithium, risperidone, and several other medications. We describe a range of other treatment options that could be introduced. The references for the suggestions are available in the full manuscript cited above, and many quotes from the original article are reprinted here directly.

As illustrated in the figure below, after many weeks of severe mania, depression, and ADHD, the child initially appeared to improve with the introduction of 4,800 micrograms per day of lithium orotate (a more potent alternative to lithium carbonate that is marketed as a dietary supplement), in combination with 1 mg per day of guanfacine, and 1 mg per day of melatonin.

mood chart

Despite continued treatment with lithium orotate (up to 9,800 micrograms twice per day), the patient’s oppositional behavior worsened during the period from November 2015 to March 2016, and moderate depression re-emerged in April 2016. Anxiety was also generally less severe from December 2015 to July 2016, and weekly ratings of overall illness remained in the moderate severity range (not illustrated).

In June 2016, the patient began taking risperidone (maximum dose 1.7 mg/day) instead of lithium, and her mania improved from moderate to mild. There was little change in her moderate but fluctuating depression ratings, but her ADHD symptoms got worse.
The patient had been previously diagnosed with bipolar II disorder and anxiety disorders including school phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Given the six weeks of moderate to severe mania that the patient experienced in October and November 2015, she would meet criteria for a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.

Targeting Symptoms to Achieve Remission

General treatment goals would include: mood stabilization prior to use of ADHD medications, a drug regimen that maximizes tolerability and safety, targeting of residual symptoms with appropriate medications supplemented with nutraceuticals, recognition that complex combination treatment may be necessary, and combined use of medications, family education, and therapy.

Mood Stabilizers and Atypical Antipsychotics to Maximize Antimanic Effects

None of the treatment options in this section are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in children under 10 years of age, so all of the suggestions are “off label.” Further, they may differ from what other investigators in this area of medicine would suggest, especially since evidence-based medicine’s traditional gold standard of randomized placebo-controlled clinical trials is impossible to apply here, given the lack of research in children with bipolar disorder.

As we share in the original article, reintroducing lithium alongside risperidone could be effective, as “combinations were more effective than monotherapy in a study [by] Geller et al. (2012), especially when they involved an atypical antipsychotic such as risperidone. This might include the switch from lithium orotate to lithium carbonate,” the typical treatment for bipolar disorder, on which more research has been done. “Combinations of lithium and valproate were also more effective than either [drug alone]…in the studies of Findling et al. (2006),” and many patients needed stimulants in addition.

“Most children also needed combinations of mood stabilizers (lithium, carbamazepine, valproate) in the study [by] Kowatch et al. (2000).” In a 2017 study by Berk et al. of patients hospitalized for a first mania, randomization to lithium for one year was more effective than quetiapine on almost all outcome measures.

Targeting ADHD

“[The increased] severity of [the child’s] ADHD despite improving mania speaks to the…utility of adding a stimulant to the regimen that already includes…guanfacine,” which is a common non-stimulant treatment for ADHD. “This would be supported by the data of Scheffer et al. (2005) that stimulant augmentation for residual ADHD symptoms does not [worsen] mania, and that the combination of a stimulant and guanfacine may have more favorable effects than stimulants alone.”

However, the consensus in the field is that mood stabilization should be achieved first, before low to moderate (but not high) doses of stimulants are added. “Thus, in the face of an inadequate response to the lithium-risperidone combination in this child, stimulants could be deferred until better mood stabilization was achieved.”

Other Approaches to Mood Stabilization and Anxiety Reduction

“The anticonvulsant mood stabilizers (carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and valproate) each have considerable mood stabilizing and anti-anxiety effects, at least in adults with bipolar disorder. With inadequate mood stabilization of this patient on lithium and risperidone, we would consider the further addition of lamotrigine.

Lamotrigine appears particularly effective in adults with bipolar disorder who have a personal history and a family history of anxiety (as opposed to mood disorders), and it has positive open data in adolescents with bipolar depression and in a controlled study of maintenance (in teenagers 13–17, but not in preteens 10–12) (Findling et al. 2015). With better mood stabilization, anxiety symptoms usually diminish…, and we would pursue these strategies [instead of using] antidepressants for depression and anxiety in young children with bipolar disorder.”

“Carbamazepine appears to be more effective in adults with bipolar who have [no] family history of mood disorders,” unlike lithium, which seems to work better in people who do have a family history of mood disorders.

“While the overall results of oxcarbazepine in childhood mania were negative, they did exceed placebo in the youngest patients (aged 7–12) as opposed to the older adolescents (13–18) (Wagner et al. 2006).

“There are long-acting preparations of both carbamazepine (Equetro) and oxcarbazepine (Oxtellar) that would allow for all nighttime dosing to help with sleep and reduce daytime side effects and sedation. Although data [on] anti-manic and antidepressant effects in adults are stronger for carbamazepine than oxcarbazepine,” there are good reasons to consider oxcarbazepine. First, there is the finding mentioned above that oxcarbazepine worked best in the youngest children. Second, there is a lower incidence of severe white count suppression on oxcarbazepine. Third, it has less of an effect on liver enzymes than carbamazepine. However, low blood sodium levels are more frequent on oxcarbazepine than carbamazepine.

Other Atypical Antipsychotics That May Improve Depression

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Cannabinoid Gel Treats Fragile X Syndrome

April 23, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 
cannabidiol gel

Zynerba’s website depicts the gel

Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by developmental problems such as intellectual disabilities, cognitive impairment, and behavioral and learning challenges. Zynerba Pharmaceuticals announced in 2017 that a cannabinoid gel they have produced improved symptoms of fragile x syndrome in children and adolescents when applied daily to the upper arm.

Multiple cannabinoids are derived from cannabis plants, and include cannabidiol, which likely conveys some of the plant’s positive effects, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which lends marijuana its psychoactive or psychomimetic effects, such as delusion or delirium. Cannabidiol is the active ingredient in the gel, and no THC was found in participants’ blood tests after using the gel.

The open study of 20 patients aged 6 to 17 years found that the participants showed improvement on a scale measuring anxiety, depression, and mood after 12 weeks of using the gel. The gel also appeared to improve aberrant behaviors including social avoidance, temper tantrums, repetitive movements, and hyperactivity. Treatment began at a dose of 50mg per day, and could be increased up to 250 mg per day within the first six weeks of the study. The dose then remained stable for the next six weeks.

Zynerba Pharmaceuticals hope to begin controlled clinical trials in 2018, with the goal of attaining approval for the drug from the US Food and Drug Administration. Other companies are also competing to garner the first FDA approval of a cannabis-based drug. Many of the drugs currently in development are intended to target neurological or behavioral conditions.

Clinical Vignettes from Dr. Elizabeth Stuller

April 11, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Dr. Elizabeth Stuller, a staff psychiatrist at the Amen clinics in Washington, DC and CEO of private practice Stuller Resettings in Baltimore, MD, provided this editor (Robert M. Post) with several interesting anecdotal observations based on her wide clinical experience with difficult-to-treat mood disordered patients.

  1. Stuller has used low-dose asenapine (Saphris), e.g. half a pill placed under the tongue, for depressed patients with alcohol use problems who have trouble getting to sleep. She has also used asenapine for rapid calming of agitated patients in her office.
  2. Stuller has also had success with the use of the atypical antipsychotic drug brexpiprazole (Rexulti) for patients with bipolar depression and low energy. She typically uses 0.5 mg/day for women and 1 mg/day for men. Stuller finds that there is little weight gain or akathisia with brexpiprazole.
  3. She has had success with the drug Nuedexta, which is a combination of dextromethorphan and quinidine and is approved for the treatment of sudden uncontrollable bouts of laughing or crying, known as pseudobulbar affect, which can occur as a result of neurological conditions or brain injuries. It is a combination of an NMDA antagonist and a sigma receptor agonist. Stuller starts with the 20mg dextromethorphan/10 mg quinidine dose once a day and increases to twice a day in week two. She finds it useful for behavioral effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), anxiety resulting from the use of synthetic marijuana (sometimes called spice), and psychosis not otherwise specified. Stuller also finds that some patients appear to respond well to Nuedextra but not minocycline, or vice versa.

Editor’s Note: Note that these are preliminary clinical anecdotes conveyed in a personal communication, and have not been studied in clinical trials, thus should not be relied upon in the making of medical decisions. All decisions about treatment are the responsibility of a treating physician.

Nutritional Supplement ALC Improves Depression

March 26, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

vitamin

A meta-analysis of 12 studies suggests that the nutrient acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC), when taken as a nutritional supplement, has antidepressant effects. The meta-analysis by researcher Nicola Veronese and colleagues appeared in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2017. Veronese and colleagues found that in nine randomized controlled trials, ALC reduced depressive symptoms significantly compared to placebo. In three randomized controlled trials that compared ALC with established antidepressants, ALC showed similar effectiveness at reducing depressive symptoms while producing 79% fewer side effects. Doses of ALC ranged from 1 to 4 grams per day, and higher doses led to greater improvement.

In the comparisons with antidepressants, the other treatments included fluoxetine (Prozac), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and amisulpride (which is not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration).

Low ALC has been linked to depression. According to Veronese and colleagues, ALC deficiency can dysregulate the transport of fatty acids across the inner membrane of mitochondria. The researchers suggest several ways that ALC might contribute to an improvement in depression. One is that is seems to promote neuroplasticity in cerebral regions implicated in depression, such as the hippocampus. It could also work by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which protects neurons and is important for learning and memory. ALC decreases release of the neurotransmitter glutamate by increasing the production of the inhibitory metabotrophic glutamate receptor (mGluR-2) on presynaptic glutamate neurons . Another way ALC might work is by normalizing lipid metabolism. Or it could modulate neurotransmitters, increasing serotonin and dopamine and protecting against stress.

In the meta-analysis, ALC produced more improvement in older patients than in younger ones. The researchers stressed the need for better treatments for older people, which may experience falls, cardiovascular disease, or increased mortality from antidepressants.

ALC also seems to improve pain syndromes, making it a good option for patients with both depression and pain symptoms.

Veronese and colleagues cited another meta-analysis that found that taking ALC in addition to an antidepressant led to lower rates of adverse events than the antidepressants alone, which helped patients adhere to their drug regimen.

Management of Unipolar and Bipolar Depression During Pregnancy

March 5, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments, Potential Treatments · Comment 

pregnancyAt the Maryland Psychiatric Research Society’s continuing medical education conference in November, Lauren Osbourne, Assistant Director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, gave a presentation on the management of mood and anxiety during pregnancy and lactation. She had a number of important ideas for physicians and patients to consider in their decision-making process.

According to Osbourne, 60%-70% of pregnant women with unipolar depression who discontinue their antidepressants relapse. Of those with bipolar disorder who discontinue their mood stabilizers, 85% relapse, while 37% of those who stay on their medications relapse.

Something to consider when deciding whether to continue medication while pregnant is that depression in pregnancy carries its own risks for the fetus. These include preterm delivery, low birth weight, poor muscle tone, hypoactivity, increased cortisol, poor reflexes, and increased incidence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other behavioral disorders.

The placenta makes an enzyme 11-BHSD2 that lowers the stress hormone cortisol in the baby. However, this enzyme is less active in depression, exposing the fetus to higher levels of cortisol.

Thus, the decision about whether to continue medications during pregnancy should consider the risks to the fetus of both the mother’s depression and the mother’s medications.

Most antidepressants are now considered safe during pregnancy. There have been reports of potential problems, but these data are often confounded by the fact that women with more severe depression are more likely to require antidepressants, along with other risk variables such as smoking or late delivery (after 42 weeks). When these are accounted for by using matched controls, the apparent risks of certain antidepressants are no longer significant. This includes no increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension, autism, or cardiac malformations.

There may be a possible increased risk of Neonatal Adaption Syndrome (NAS) in the first weeks of life in babies who were exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants in the third trimester. This syndrome presumably results from antidepressant withdrawal, and can include respiratory distress, temperature changes, decreased feeding, jitteriness/irritability, floppiness or rigidity, hypoglycemia, and jaundice. There is not yet a robust literature on the syndrome, but Osbourne suggested that it disappears within 2 weeks of birth.

In her practice, Osbourne prefers to prescribe sertraline, which has the best safety data, along with fluoxetine. Sertraline is also OK for breastfeeding. There is less data on bupropion, but it also appears to be safe during pregnancy. Endocrine and enzyme changes in pregnancy typically cause a 40% to 50% decrease in concentrations of antidepressants, so doses of antidepressants typically must be increased in order to maintain their effectiveness.

Osbourne ranked mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder, from safest to most worrisome. Lamotrigine is safest. There is no evidence linking it to birth defects, but higher doses are required because of increased clearance during pregnancy. Lithium is next safest. There are cardiac risks for one in 1,200 patients, but these can be monitored. Carbamazepine is third safest. One percent of babies exposed to carbamazepine will develop spina bifida or craniofacial abnormalities. Valproate is least safe during pregnancy. Seven to ten percent of babies exposed to valproate will develop neural tube defects, other malformations, or developmental delay, with a mean decrease of 9 IQ points. The atypical antipsychotics all appear safe so far.

Alternatives and Adjuncts to Medications in Pregnancy

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