Typically, when someone hears the word “lithium” the image that comes to mind is of either lithium-ion batteries, or severely mentally ill patients on lithium therapy locked up in a psych ward – and not exactly a substance that you would want to intentionally try to get into your body. The positive effects of lithium for those with severe bipolar disorder have long been known in the medical community, but recently, several studies have shown that lithium can have far-reaching benefits for a wider range of diseases and conditions, including depression, aggression and violence, Alzheimer’s disease, suicide, and even alcoholism!
Lithium as an essential element in the human body has been vastly underrated, but if we could prevent and treat severe mental diseases with a microdose (a very tiny dose) of any element, shouldn’t we know about it? Even though very recent, high quality studies are somewhat lacking due to decreased interest in the scientific community, I’m going to go into pretty good detail about the fascinating information about lithium that IS out there right now. Warning: this is going to get pretty nerdy, so if you’re just interested in learning how to safely supplement with it, scroll down to the last paragraph to get the goods.
Lithium in the Water
The long history of therapeutic lithiumbegins millennia ago when people started noticing that certain hot springs had therapeutic qualities. The springs became a health destination for those who were looking for healing and vitality, and in the late 1800s, it was discovered that these springs had higher levels of lithium in them (among other beneficial minerals and trace elements). Soon after that, lithium became an accepted treatment for severe depressive symptoms and bipolar disease. In fact, until about 60 years ago, 7-Up had trace amounts of lithium!
As it turns out, even today areas that have higher levels of lithium in the tap water have lower rates of violence, aggression, suicide, and depression. In a large study released just a couple of months ago, researchers concluded that the higher the level of lithium in the water at school, the lower the levels of violence and aggression among the students. Recent studies in Japan, Greece, and Austria have found similar results.
Today, our water, due to modern processing and filtration systems, is devoid of many beneficial minerals, which is a possible reason that many of us are deficient in so many minerals.
Lithium has shown incredible benefits in the treatment of depression. One interesting study is a 2011 study in which researchers took 30 unmedicated depressed patients and treated them with lithium for 4 weeks. Although this is a relatively short study period, the response rate for lithium therapy was 50%, while the remission rate was 33%! This means that a full third of the patients in the study were no longer experiencing depressive symptoms after less than a month on lithium therapy, and half of them were responding positively to the treatment. When you consider that the only side effects they experienced were very mild (mostly increased urinating and thirst), these are impressive results. In other studies, lithium was used as an augmentation to other psychiatric medication with considerable success in further improving the depressive symptoms.
Violence and Suicide
Violence and aggressive behavior have also been shown to be treatable with both trace and therapeutic doses of lithium. In two separate but similar placebo-controlled, double-blind studies in the 70’s, violent prisoners were given therapeutic doses of lithium alternating with a placebo for 3 months. In both of these studies, researchers found that the prisoners were significantly less aggressive while receiving lithium than they were during the placebo periods. Lithium therapy is also useful for conduct disorder in adults and children. In the 2009 study on the effects of lithium therapy on children, it was found that in subjects given lithium therapy, verbal and physical aggression scores improved significantly over the study period. Also, as previously noted, areas of the world that have higher levels of lithium in the local tap water have significantly lower rates of violence and aggression.
Another surprising benefit of lithium therapy is in the treatment of alcoholism, which has a high comorbidity with depression. Data from the 1986 study on lithium orotate indicate that it was useful as the main treatment for alcoholism. According to the study authors, “Lithium orotate proved useful as the main pharmacologic agent for the treatment of alcoholism.” While you may not think of alcoholism as something you could treat with a simple supplement, perhaps the use of lithium helped correct the underlying cause of alcoholism, which might have been severe depression.
Another example of the far-reaching benefits of lithium were the studies done on its effect on the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease. This devastating disease causes gradual dementia due to the formation of B-amyloid plaques in the brain that disrupt connections and slowly destroys one’s memory and ability to be self-sufficient. In a 2013 study, it was found that the cognitive abilities of the group treated with lithium ceased to get worse, while those of the control group continued to decline. In a mouse model study done in 2015 in which mice with a form of Alzheimer’s disease “treated with lithium since two months of age showed decreased number of senile plaques, no neuronal loss in cortex and hippocampus and increased BDNF density…It is suitable to conclude that these data support the use of microdose lithium in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.” So you’re telling me that using tiny doses of lithium can prevent and even reverse symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the brain? This is truly groundbreaking, yet hardly anyone is talking about it!
How does it work?
For many years, people had no idea how lithium worked, they just knew that it did. However, we now know that at least part of the beneficial effects of lithium stem from its ability to combat inflammation in the brain, which we now know is a major cause of depression and other mood disorders. As a 2014 study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry states,
Neuroinflammation is increasingly recognized as affecting many aspects of CNS functions and behaviors. In particular, much evidence demonstrates that inflammatory markers are elevated in traits that have been linked to suicidal behavior, including aggression, impulsivity and depression. Lithium is recognized as significantly reducing suicidal behavior, is anti-inflammatory and diminishes aggression, impulsivity and depression traits, each of which is associated with elevated inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effects of lithium result from its inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3). GSK3 has been demonstrated to strongly promote inflammation, aggressive behavior in rodents and depression-like behaviors in rodents, whereas regulation of impulsivity by GSK3 has not yet been investigated.
Another study published in the Journal of Lipid Research pointed out more anti-inflammatory effects of lithium, which work through regulation of arachidonic (AA) and dehexanoic acid (DHA) metabolism by inhibiting the pro-inflammatory fatty acid AA, and counteracting the harmful effects of inflammatory LPS (lipopolysaccharide) in the brain.
If you spaced out for a second up there, essentially, the mood boosting effects of lithium come from its ability to combat neuroinflammation in a number of ways. There are also other well studied substances that also do this, such as the curcumin in turmeric.
Why Should I Care?
The greatest thing to note about lithium, based on all of the research, is its incredible mood stabilizing abilities and the fact that it is one of the few substances known to science to actually have a protective effect against suicide. In fact, one study even showed that trace lithium supplementation led to growth of gray matter in the brain, which negatively correlated with suicide rates. In a world where suicide is one of the top causes of death, it is imperative that we take a more effective approach to addressing the problem.
Unfortunately, the use of lithium is not very popular anymore. When you look at the back of your multivitamin or in the supplement aisle at Walgreens, I almost guarantee you will not find it. Although more and larger studies need to be done on lithium, with the plethora of benefits it provides (with little to no side effects at the effective microdose), I suspect that public awareness should begin to rise in the near future!
How to get it
Since I am not a doctor or psychiatrist and these are my own opinions and not medical advice, I am not suggesting that you go get a prescription for the medication lithium chloride, which does have serious side effects, or take dangerous doses of other forms of lithium from the internet. You might grow a third arm or lose your marbles or something, and I don’t want to be responsible for that. What I am suggesting, however, is that more of us should look into the use of microdoses of lithium that come naturally from the earth. Microdosing with the lithium orotate form is a method that is growing in popularity on the internet and appears to be quite effective, but because the studies on it are few and far between and the long-term side effects are unknown, I recommend talking with your healthcare practitioner before trying it out.
The safest way I recommend getting it is through these trace mineral drops. I have used them for months, and have definitely noticed a difference in my mood! They also have several other trace minerals that are beneficial to health and missing from most of our diets, such as boron, magnesium, sulfur, selenium, molybdenum, and more.
If you want the original therapeutic springs experience, you could find hot springs near you that have naturally occurring lithia water and soak it up! A couple that I have found are the Orvis hot springs in Colorado (http://www.orvishotsprings.com/waterfrom.htm) and the Lithia Springs resort in Oregon (http://lithiaspringsresort.com/).
And that’s all for today! Let me know what your opinions are on microdosing lithium, if you’ve ever thought about it, or if you have an awesome experience at the hot springs, because I’m always up for a new trip to plan.
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