Q.: I am 38 years old, vegan and have bipolar. I have tried every natural remedy or treatment plan for my bipolar but unfortunately chemical medicine works best for me. I am on Wellbutrin and Carbamazepine. Even though it has kept me stable for the past eight years it is very harmful to my liver and kidneys. Luckily there is no real damage to it as I do not consume alcohol… although coffee is my poison of choice! I am a total addict! I have many allergies and a few other health issues that I manage successfully through diet and homeopathic remedies. I can feel that my body is ‘dirty’ again and it’s a long time since my last detox.
My question is, how do I detox without weaning myself off my meds? Within a week or so after being meds-free my moods become erratic and either severe fatigue or mania sets in. I simply cannot afford this as I am a busy wife and stay at home mother to our sons. I have a lot of responsibilities and I need to be stable at all times. Every time (once every 18 months) I do come off my meds I am not a pleasant person to live with until a week or so after I’ve been back on treatment.
I really want to protect my body and live as healthily as I can. I need to get rid of my cof- fee addiction and clean up my body. But how do I do so without making myself mentally ill? Regards, A.Y.
DR SANDI NYE REPLIES:
The simplest advice is to rather start by reducing and eventually stopping the coffee, not the meds, at this stage. Besides the adverse effects on the nervous system (and other body systems) of caffeine-containing stimulants, excessive coffee consumption robs the body of vital nutrients, as well as overloading the organs of elimination. Making sure that your vegan diet is nutrient-dense and healthy is obviously essential too, as your energy requirements will need to be modified if you reduce your stimulant consumption.
Anyone with a mood disorder needs to be careful about sudden withdrawal of any mood altering and/ or stimulating substances, including coffee. It would be safer to gradually reduce coffee consumption while simultaneously implementing a nutritionally-based liver support programme, for example including chlorella, which does not have any adverse effect on bipolar status. The various coffee substitutes on the market may require getting used to, but some do taste similar to coffee – it’s a case of trying different ones until you find one that suits your palate. There are some really nice brands available from your health shop.
Herbal teas that do not interfere with your medication may not initially be to your taste, since they are usually gentler in taste and action than coffee. However, chai tea (either decaffeinated or home-made using only spices) may do the trick, since the flavours are more robust, which may help your taste buds adjust.
The liver is a very forgiving, regenerating organ and is likely to provide you with sufficient detoxification action without needing to halt or amend your medication, and the consequences that follow from doing that. In this respect it would be inadvisable to stop taking medication, which you state controls your particular condition well, in pursuit of drastic detoxification. As initially proposed, consider first removing the caffeine load from your system, since your liver function (which you indicate is relatively healthy) should be robust enough to detox any residual drug effects without the need for an intense annual detox.
There are natural treatment options available for bipolar disorder but they need to be implemented under the careful management and supervision of a doctor experienced in integrative medicine to obviate potential food/ herb/drug interactions. For example, grapefruit is usually a no-no for those on Carbamazepine, as is St John’s wort. Stimulants interact with bupropion (Wellbutrin), which makes coffee your foe rather than your friend.
CAFFEINE-FREE CHAI ‘TEA’
(use fresh ingredients if possible, as spices lose their oily goodness if stored for too long)
- 4 cups cold, filtered water
- 4-6 cardamom pods, bruised (cracked open) 4-6 whole cloves
- 4-6 peppercorns
- 1-2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 small piece of whole nutmeg (or a pinch of grated nutmeg) 1 tsp coriander seeds or ¼ tsp ground coriander seed
- 1-2 tbs freshly chopped ginger root 4-6 allspice/pimento berries
- ½ tsp anise seed
- 2-4 tsp raw honey or natural sweetener (optional, or to taste)
- ¼ cup milk of your choice
*Ring the changes by adding a small piece of vanilla pod to the spices*
- Bring water and spices to a boil in a stainless steel pot, over high heat. Boil for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat to low, add milk and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat, add honey (if desired), and steep for 5 more minutes with lid on the pot.
- Strain and serve (and throw the spices on the compost heap).
This makes a delicious hot (or cold – in summer) libation that satisfies most palates, and a few cups a day will do you good.