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Lithium

Overview

Lithium is a naturally occurring trace element that is found in water, soil and a number of fruits, vegetables and other plants. In the early 1950s, psychologists discovered that very large doses of one form of lithium could help control and/or prevent episodes of mania that occur in bipolar disorder.  Those doses, in the range of 100 to 1800 mgs daily, have been associated with severe side effects and carry the danger of toxicity. Much of the information that you’ll find on the internet – and in other medical literature – assumes dosages of lithium carbonate or another form of lithium at those clinical/therapeutic levels rather than at the levels at which lithium is often found in nature.

 

Other research has shown, however, that minute amounts of lithium are a vital part of a healthy diet.  Many nutrition and health experts believe that daily consumption of up to 2 mgs of lithium may be necessary for a number of important cellular interactions.  At those levels, lithium seems to carry no risk of side effects, and several major studies in the 1970s suggest that there may be some very important benefits.

 

What Lithium  Does:

Lithium readily forms salts that are used by the body in a number of functions. Among those functions are

            Helping to control glucose metabolism

            Regulating the production of serotonin

            Dissolving excess uric acid in the blood and/or kidneys

            Facilitate the transmission of messages over neurons

            Affects the way that salt is absorbed in the body

            Assists in the absorption of folate and Vitamin B12

 

Various dietary studies suggest that most people get about 2 mgs of lithium daily.  It’s interesting to note that many of the ‘therapeutic’ spas of the 1800s and early 1900s featured mineral waters and springs with high concentrations of lithium.  The effects of ‘taking the waters’ at those spas was to calm anxiety and combat mania.  While there’s no way of evaluating whether or not the lithium in those waters was the reason for the effectiveness of the treatment, some more recent studies have had some extremely interesting results.

 

Health Benefits of Lithium:

In one Texas study (Schrauzer & Klippel, The relationship of tap water and physiological levels of lithium to mental hospital admission and homicide in Texas) reported in 1992, the researchers found a correlation between admissions and readmissions of patients for psychological episodes and the level of lithium in the drinking water.  This was borne out by further studies that extended that to note statistically significant differences in violent crime in counties with higher concentrations of lithium in the water.

 

Following up on the discovery, the researchers conducted a number of studies into the effects of low level lithium supplementation in humans.  In one placebo controlled research project, 27 former drug users were given supplements of brewers yeast tablets.  The treatment group received yeast tablets enriched with 400 mcg of lithium. The control group received a placebo of non-enriched brewers’ yeast.  Over the course of the study, the treatment group demonstrated a steady and statistically significant improvement in mood and reduction of violent thoughts.  After several other studies confirmed the initial results, the authors concluded,

 

"lithium at low dosage levels has a generally beneficial effect on human behavior, which may be associated with the functions of lithium as a nutritionally-essential trace element.”

 

Possible Side Effects of Lithium:

While lithium at therapeutic (pharmaceutical) dosages has considerable side effects, there have been no noted side effects to supplementation with lithium at very low doses – up to approximately 2 mgs daily.  Those levels are consistent with the amount of lithium consumed by people living in areas with soil and water naturally high in the trace element of lithium.

 

It is also important to balance any increased intake of lithium in the body with an appropriate level of salt (NaCl, table salt) to prevent symptoms of salt depletion.

 

Summary:

There is no doubt that lithium is the single most effective treatment for the manic phase of bipolar disorder, and anyone taking lithium at levels prescribed for treatment of mania, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia should be under the care of a physician.  Because the line between an effective dose and toxicity is minute, it is vital that those taking dosages of lithium in the range of 100 mgs and up should have regular blood tests to determine the levels of lithium in their blood.

 

However, regular supplementation with low levels (~2 mgs daily) has been shown to be effective in regulating moods and reducing incidence of anger, depression and suicidal thoughts in many who do not fit the clinical profile of bipolar disorder.  At those levels – approximating a regular dietary intake of lithium in a diet high in lithium rich foods – there are no reported side effects, and a great deal of benefit.

 

Because it is important to maintain a proper balance of nutrients when supplementing the diet with lithium, we recommend taking a supplement that contains trace amounts of lithium as part of a synergistically balanced formula. 

 

 

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