Honestly, the things they ask on Quora these days! Quora, for those of you not familiar with it, is a website that allows people to ask questions for “experts” to answer. Somehow, I have become one of the people that others come to with questions about bipolar disorder. (Also the Ivy League, but that’s another story.)
Some of the questions are serious, but others are less so. “If you could stay hypomanic all the time, why wouldn’t you?” “How can I get my bipolar dad to stay on his diabetes meds?” I actually had an answer for that: You can’t. And bipolar has nothing to do with it.
I’ve answered a few of the questions if I had the time or if a good answer hadn’t already been given. Many of the answers are written by doctors, who can do a much better job than I.
Recently, however, I saw a question that I thought it wouldn’t take a medical degree to answer:
“Is bipolar disorder causally linked to lunar cycles?”
Impressed that the writer knew the difference between “causally” and “casually,” I responded:
“No. The cause, as far as we know, is a glitch in the brain between the synapses. There may also be a genetic or hereditary component. But nothing to do with the moon.”
To my surprise, I received a reply. The writer, while asserting that he or she was also bipolar, said that my response was “no answer at all” and incorrect. Acknowledging the genetic component I mentioned, the author then proceeded to enlighten me with an “unpublished hypothesis.” (He or she also claimed to be “a bipolar scientist,” though not a neurophysiologist.)
The argument was based on several points.
- Sexual reproduction is always in response to lunar cycles.
- This is based on gravity, illumination, and diurnal and lunar cycles/high tides.
- Bipolar disorder is a disruption of sleep.
- It first manifests at or near puberty, with the onset of hormonal cycles.
- Something about teenagers having a different sleep cycle than adults, staying up later to reproduce while the parents sleep. (I can’t say I understood this part.)
- During the full moon, hospitals and police report increases in both people out late at night and odd behaviors and emergencies.
- Anecdotally, the writer noticed “elevated and depressed moods not necessarily linked to lunar cycles, but not necessarily independent of them either,” noting that “periods of mania occur during full and nearly full/new moon.”
The writer’s hypothesis, if I follow it correctly, is that bipolar disorder involves sleep-hormonal cycles related to the full moon, which evolved in the days before artificial lighting. This apparently gave a reproductive advantage of being awake at night because bipolar disrupts the sleep cycle. This is noted to be “an obvious evolutionary reproductive strategy.” There was more, but that was enough for me. (The writer admitted that statistics to prove any of this did not exist or had to be derived from “Bayesian statistical methods,” which one source I looked at called “a measure of the strength of your belief regarding the true situation.”)
So, where to start? First, if the writer thought he or she already knew the answer, why write in with the question? Obviously, to seek validation or to promote a theory (or to make me look like a fool).
I could answer each point individually. (I’m not a neurophysiologist either, but I do have some experience with rhetoric and logic. And bipolar.) But let’s just take a few.
Not all animals’ reproductive cycles are based on the moon, and neither are humans’. Women have menstrual cycles at all times of the month, and men don’t. (And what about bipolar men?)
Bipolar disorder can certainly cause a disruption of sleep, but is not caused by it. That is too simple an explanation for a complex disorder.
We’ll just skip that one about teenagers reproducing while parents sleep. Its connection with bipolar disorder is slim at best.
That one about the full moon is most likely anecdotal, as reported by police and emergency room workers, but no statistics (other than perhaps Bayesian ones) seem to bear this out. And the moon is full, nearly full, or new for more than half the month. Let’s also disregard the fact that bipolar cycles are seldom exactly a month in length. I had a depressive crisis that lasted several years.
Many causes have been theorized for bipolar disorder, from gut bacteria to early trauma to brain wiring. At the moment, as far as I know, the jury is still debating. Perhaps all of these are components of the cause, though I favor brain wiring as the principal cause. But given the actual science, I’m betting that the moon isn’t the answer.