While many of us know in our hearts, and minds, that bipolar disorder is the result of a chemical imbalance or some other dysfunction in the brain, each day I meet far too many naysayers online who insist it is a character defect. They use anecdotal information as proof that we are being spoon-fed disinformation from the psychiatric community. “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” as they say. Frequent exercise and cognitive therapy have helped me tremendously, however, they have not “cured” me of a disorder they don’t believe I have. Their strongest argument, which has some validity, is that psychiatrists consistently refer to having a chemical imbalance when there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case. The magical chemical that causes bipolar or other disorders has never been found.
Nothing conclusive yet, but now we’re getting closer to finding the genetic link for bipolar disorder. It’s a big first step. An article published February 12 edition of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry states “Scientists know there is a strong genetic component to bipolar disorder, but they have had an extremely difficult time identifying the genes that cause it. So, in an effort to better understand the illness’s genetic causes, researchers at UCLA tried a new approach.” Researchers, in this test, used a combination of methods to diagnose bipolar disorder. They used brain imaging, cognitive testing and temperament and behavioral measures.”
Instead of using just a standard clinical interview to determine whether individuals met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the researchers combined the results from brain imaging, cognitive testing, and an array of temperament and behavior measures. Using the new method, UCLA investigators identified about 50 brain and behavioral measures that are both under strong genetic control and associated with bipolar disorder. Their discoveries could be a major step toward identifying the specific genes that contribute to the illness.
“The field of psychiatric genetics has long struggled to find an effective approach to begin dissecting the genetic basis of bipolar disorder,” said Carrie Bearden, a senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “This is an innovative approach to identifying genetically influenced brain and behavioral measures that are more closely tied to the underlying biology of bipolar disorder than the clinical symptoms alone are.”
“These findings are really just the first step in getting us a little closer to the roots of bipolar disorder,” Bearden said. “What was really exciting about this project was that we were able to collect the most extensive set of traits associated with bipolar disorder ever assessed within any study sample. This data will be a really valuable resource for the field.”
To me, one of the most interesting parts of the study “was the discovery that the thickness of the gray matter in the brain’s temporal and prefrontal regions — the structures that are critical for language and for higher-order cognitive functions like self-control and problem-solving — were the most promising candidate traits for genetic mapping, based on both their strong genetic basis and association with the disease.” There has been so much conjecture regarding those with bipolar disorder being more intelligent and/or more creative and artistic – are they on the way to finally proving that to be true? Yeah, yeah, I’m probably way off base making that conclusion, but I hope so, so I’m choosing to believe it.
I wrote a post awhile back in which I said if I had to do it all over again I would still have bipolar disorder because it is such a part of who I am and who I’ve become. That’s still true, but what about the future? If this genetic study finds a “cure” for mental illness I’d be first in line. I know this is just a part of numerous studies that are in the early stages, so who knows if this study could lead to a magic pill. Or, if some other study finds a cure in my lifetime, but I can hope. Can’t I?
In a previous article, many of my commenters agreed that bipolar is a part of who they are and, as I said, they wouldn’t change that. What if, however, the magic pill was found in your lifetime? Would you take it?