Let me first get your attention with this shocking well-kept secret: Researchers studied the drinking water in 27 Texas counties. As reported in an excellent 2014 New York Times article entitled Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?, the study demonstrated that “people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium.” In fact, “The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.” More recent studies in Greece, Austria and Chile confirm the findings. A confirming Japanese study also noticed lower levels of “all-cause mortality” in the water with more lithium (!!! Egad, that was in 1990 and yet we still adulterate tap water with disease-causing fluoride but fail to see if the lithium is in a healthful range!!!) Recent research is investigating lithium for improving mood and the prevention of dementia. Here is an excellent professional article on the use of lithium in integrative medicine. If you are interested in drinking water with known amounts of lithium and a big consumer following, consider Crazy Water.
Most folks only know lithium in connection with batteries (i.e the type the airlines don’t allow in checked luggage). The fact that every organ and tissue in the human body contains some lithium doesn’t seem known even by most nutritionists and psychiatrists. Lithium should apparently be classified as an essential trace element nutrient. However, DO NOT stop taking a psychoactive medication on your own. Work with the doctor to do so gradually and safely.
History. The use of lithium to improve health goes back at least two thousand years and is a key factor in many well-known healing springs. I was surprised to learn that the soft drink 7-Up contained lithium until 1950 because it made people feel better. (Surely that’s a better deal than when Coca Cola contained cocaine.) In 1908, you could buy pills with lithium from the Sears & Roebuck catalog.
Other benefits. It isn’t surprising that there has been such interest in the past and in pockets of current research. Studies show that lithium is especially important for brain health and memory and has even been shown to reduce mental decline in Alzheimer’s patients.* It has also shown improvement in neurodegenerative diseases and in children with intellectual disabilities. Low doses of the mineral are being studied for anti-aging benefit, various mood issues, ADHD, alcoholism (with the supplement lithium orotate) and as an adjunct in cancer chemotherapy treatment. Animal studies show benefit for osteoporosis and seizures.
How does lithium work? As with most minerals, there are probably multiple effects, but lithium hasn’t really been taken seriously as a nutrient, so comparatively little research has been done on its mechanisms. From what I gather, it helps the growth and stability of nerve fibers and reduces damage to nerve tissue caused by stress. In one study, brain scans found that patients taking medically-prescribed lithium for mood problems, gained more gray matter in their brains compared to controls! Other theories are that lithium helps protect against damage from the heavy metal cadmium and that it may help transport and distribute vitamin B12
Sources. Our major source of lithium intake is from drinking water. (The photo at the top is how it is “mined” from briny water.) But, as the studies above showed, not all tap water is a good source. Lithium is found in very low amounts in foods such as lentils, beans and peas. Even lower amounts are contained in tomatoes, mushrooms, cucumbers, cabbage and cauliflower. However, it can take extra effort to restore lithium balance when things have become seriously out of kilter as is the case with bipolar disorder, other mental issues and probably addictions. The most potent variety of Crazy Water contains less than 1 milligram per liter – .017 mg to be exact (plus other minerals). Nutritional supplements of lithium orotate are usually around 5 mg. As a prescription medication, lithium doses can range from 150 mg to as much as 600 mg and therefore, obviously, must be calibrated and monitored by a physician because there can be very serious side effects with lithium overdose.
Why don’t we hear more about lithium? That appears to be because when the mineral became associated with its use as a drug for bipolar disorder, the nutrition community and the public were either frightened off or just forgot about the other uses. Of course, we can’t expect any interest in publicizing it by the pharmaceutical industry because even the drug version is cheap and sold by several companies.
*For anyone dealing with mental problems or decline, in addition to considering a lithium source, I’d recommend what Bill Sardi taught us, vitamin B1 in the benfotiamine form at 150-300 mg. (Take away from coffee, alcohol, sugars or other B vitamins. See last week’s blog.) The same goes for traumatic brain injury, stroke recovery, migraines, anxiety and other brain issues. For all these reasons, please investigate the Brain Light Pad.