Natural Brain Boost
Researchers use substances created by the human body to treat depression and bipolar disorder.
Researchers have discovered a unique treatment for depression and bipolar illnesses using two natural substances made by our own bodies.
A natural substance called creatine that's in virtually every cell of our body may be what people with depression need to reverse the devastating effects of their illness.
"Creatine is raw material for which our body can use - a phosphorus creatine reaction to create energy in the brain," explains Dr. Douglas Kondo of the University of Utah Brain Institute.
For someone like Missee Greager, another natural substance called uridine might energize the brain even more to fight her bipolar illness, symptoms she's battled since her teenage years.
"I can be manic for weeks," she says. "I can also have depression for weeks, or manic twice in one day and then I'll be like really high and then I'll go down and be depressed - and up and down."
Missee has the illness under control and is doing well on conventional medications, but she'd like to participate in future uridine studies.
"Uridine by contrast is in human mother's breast milk and is compounded intentionally into infant formulas. So it's something the brain cannot develop without," says Dr. Kondo.
For now, Dr. Kondo and Dr. Perry Renshaw have been giving low doses of creatine and uridine to adolescent patients who have not had success with traditional medicines.
It appears when the substances are given as a supplement to the medications, the brain is re-energized, enhancing the medications so they work effectively.
"If you think of the times when you've been sad or not feeling well, your brain doesn't feel like it has a lot of energy," Renshaw says. "There's a tremendous focus on creatine as an athletic supplement, but it turns out, it's not only skeletal muscle that uses creatine to create energy - but also the brain."
Even more dramatic, Kondo says for some patients with bipolar illness, "We're actually treating people with uradine on its own."
"We're reducing depressive symptoms by at least 50 percent within a couple of weeks. The two things that are remarkable is one, it's a very large effect and two, it's happening very quickly," Dr. Renshaw adds.
In before and after brain scans of patients, graphs show some dramatic differences.
Those images are documented by a sophisticated MRI at the Imaging and Neurosciences Center.
As displayed in peaks and dips, the spikes of phosphorus creatine levels are much lower in those with depression or bipolar illnesses.
Kondo and Renshaw say these early creatine and uridine experiments now beg for more stringent controlled double blind clinical trials to prove or disprove what appears to be happening in the brain.
For people like Missee Greager and others with depressive illnesses the possibilities for future treatments appear promising.
"It's even more exciting," she says, "to know that it is natural, something that your body makes."
Creatine is also being investigated as a possible therapy for Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease.
Clinical trials, using creatine to treat depression in adults will soon begin at Salt Lake's Veterans Hospital.