Newsletter: EMpower (True Hope) Supplements for Bipolar Disorder

I recently received a common from Alex about the over the counter mental health supplement ‘EMpower’ from the manufacturer True Hope.  He wrote in response to my blog post on the potential dangers of EMpower and other such natural supplements. I have replied below.

Hi Julie,

My father killed himself when I was only two years old, after only a few weeks of manic behavior (his condition went undiagnosed at the time). Twenty years later, my sister was diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder after a few months of insane and dangerous behavior. She spent two days in a mental institution before being released. She slept about four hours every two days, and would swing from extremely hyper to drowsy/lethargic in a matter of minutes. My family and I spent two weeks keeping her on round-the-clock suicide watch. During this period, we kept her on the proper loading dose of EMPower (which I think was something like 24 pills a day). Within one week, she was sleeping through the night (at least six hours). Within one month, her mood was stabilized. Within three months, she was back to normal. This was six years ago. She’s had minor recurrences, but they’re always linked to stress/diet/sickness.

This isn’t to say that EMPower is the cure-all. These types of situations are almost always multifaceted. Her environment leading up to her mania was a big factor, and the family support and comforting, safe environment during the recovery was huge. Also, diet played a roll during the bad months, and healthy home cooked meals were served while healing.

I must say, I cannot fathom how anything in EMPower could actually CAUSE mania…

Julie

Hi Alex,

Thanks for writing.

I am happy that your sister has done so well. She is very lucky. One of the problems with all over the counter medications is that they are working on our brain chemistry just as pharmaceuticals do- and it’s so very delicate to pinpoint what will work and what won’t. I am extremely, and I mean extremely sensitive to medications and supplements which means I am rather the poster child for what could go wrong.  Many people can take the drugs I can’t tolerate.

The biggest problem with over the counter supplements is not that they work or don’t work, it’s that the potential for harm is not discussed. If you visit the EMpower supplement webpage, there are no warnings that it can be very unsafe for people with bipolar disorder. That needs to be on the site just for safety. Instead, the site talks about its effect on mood- but not specifically how it works on bipolar disroder. Bipolar is a far more serious illness than depression, so I feel the site intenitally sticks to the benefits EMpower has on the treatment of depression and skips the mania worries.

I am not saying I’m against supplements. For example, I recently tried an amino acid over the counter supplement that shows some promise in bipolar depression research. (EMpower also includes amino acids). Within one week I was so hungry and so agitated manic I could hardly function. Then the depression started and stayed off and on for four weeks! And yet the study had great results with the participants. It was a national study reported in the Bipolar Network News. I always check with my coauthor Dr. John Preston about anything I try and let my family know when I take something new. But I still got sick.

There is no way people are going to stop trying new things- my point is that the active ingredients in over the counter products such as EMpower can work or they can have very serious consequences. I tried EMpower because I wanted to get better and it seemed natural – it is very natural, but I became manic and psychotic and it was not pleasant.  When I called the help line they said there was no indication that it caused mania and psychosis- and yet, I was on the line telling them it had! All I want is for natural supplement companies to list the possible dangers of the supplements for people with mania. But you don’t even get that with big pharma, so I doubt it’s going to happen soon.

It’s essential that we all check out what we are taking and then have someone watch us closely for mood swings.  This includes all non psychiatric meds/supplements as well- such as cortisone, 5-HTP, valerian or melatonin. I know so many people who do get relief from supplements- but they always hear the same lecture from me- Watch for signs of mood swings!  (For example, the over the counter supplement   5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid that works on serotonin much the way Prozac works on serotonin. Prozac can cause mania as can 5-HTP. This means it can be a very dangerous albeit natural drug for people with bipolar disorder. )

We have to know how everything we put in our body affects bipolar. I do not believe in taking anything where research has shown it can cause mania.  I believe that all products such as EMpower need to list the possibilites of mania and psychosis along with the benefits of the supplements. Then a person can be ready for what might happen.  People with depression can take supplements that many of us can’t-  and it’s all because of the mania risk found in bipolar disorder.

Thanks for your comment. I am so very happy for your sister.

Julie

Here is a page regarding EMpower from the great Dr. Jim Phelps. Dr. Phelps is a true pioneer in the research and treatment of bipolar II and especially rapid cycling.

http://www.psycheducation.org/depression/meds/truehope.htm

PS: If you go to the search function to your right, you can type in Empower, True Hope, Rapid Cycling and Mania to learn more about each topic.

4 comments to Newsletter: EMpower (True Hope) Supplements for Bipolar Disorder

  • I too am VERY sensitive to medications. What was considered “Normal Bipolar Medications” sent me into a Zombie State!!!
    Other Different medications had me either Bouncing off the walls, or unable to get out of bed.

    So I wouldnt dare try an over the counter medications having had the reactions I’ve had with proper perscription medications that have a tried and tested history. It really irks me the people that go around advocating these over the counters when they HAVENT had a tried and tested history.

    If other people want to try it, fine. But know the whole story first, and dont go hassling others over it, Just cos you think it worked for your sister.
    I still wouldnt be advocating something that worked for ONE person, even if that one person was me, cos you just don’t know what its going to do to the other thousands of people out there, that in itself is irresponsible ESPECIALLY without a consulting doctor!. This is where these over the counters need BIG DISCLAIMERS so people are fully informed. Just as you are when you go to a Doctor for your meds. The Doctor is the person keeping you full informed and helping you when your on perscription meds, whos the person keeping you informed and keeping an eye on you when your taking over the counters? Exactly no one, so again I cannot trust them!

    and also, did I real right?… 24 pills a day? are you kidding me? I have enough trouble trying to remember 2 sets of pills morning and night without 24 over a day… that is even more rediculous still…

    I’m leaving it there for now, cos this has really got me quite perplexed!

    • Melinda

      EMPower does encourage interaction with you doctor and as part of the order includes a 24 hour a day hotline for both you and your doctor. It has also under gone clinical trials and has been sued several to
      RS, but won every suit because of the documentation, clinical evidence, and protocols. There are some who do not communicate or use a doctor as advocate. These are foolish in my opinion. Our illness truly is life threatening, but I have come tto my own conclusion that I would rather (under watchfull care) try something that after researching I have some measure of hope in living a productive and more functional life. I have witnessed improvement in others and because I am working with my Dr. I feel like it’s not unlike any other medication attempt…

      Good luck to you! I hope you have found what works best for you. 🙂
      Melinda

  • Lisa

    Hi Julie, thanks for such a good post on Empower. I also tried the supplement and did so for 2 years, but, was unsuccessful with it. I do so much better on medications. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t work, but not for me. On the other hand I do give it to my son who is 9 and shows signs of the illness. It seems to take the edge off his symptoms. When he is older I would like to try him on meds, hoping they will help him more, but for now he takes the Empower.

  • Melinda

    There are of course different types of bi-polar. I have type 1 with psychosis. I have responded poorly to every drug given but lithium, but I go toxic if above 300 a day. I have seen 4 wonderful psychiatrists (and other not good ones…) and have learned that there are different sources for bipolar symptoms. I believe this is why some respond well to one treatment and others to totally different treatment plans.

    Environment plays a huge roll. Some bipolar bodies must deal with current or past drug interactions and as triggers, add alcohol and you see. Some exercise and some do not (same stats as non-bipolars) some eat very healthy and these have impact on overall health and thus on the body’s ability to deal with triggers. Some have multiple auto-immune disorders/diseases and some have none. Environment covers so much more, but as you can imagine created a very complicated set of interacting dynamics.

    My point is that my good doctors all have educated me on the reality that all bipolars are NOT the same. I communicate my beliefs and expectations and maintain an open relationship with all my doctors, not just my psych. I am one who has a lot going on in my body in addition to bipolar.

    I know of many who use EMPower (under the care of their psych) who have had great! success. I do not actually know, of myself, who have had a negative reaction to EMPower. I must concede it’s very possibility though. My thought are that all should rely on open communication and complete honesty I. Dealing with bipolar. But that we should also understand that what worked or DIDN’T work for us is certainly not universal.

    I’m actually going to try EMPower myself and for my teen daughter. And good luck to all on your search for your best treatment. 🙂

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