Lithium, in most people’s minds, is the drug used to treat people with bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder. We’ve forgotten that lithium is also a natural element.
Many psychiatrists have veered away from the use of lithium because of the sometimes debilitating side effects of pharmaceutical lithium, such as irreversible kidney damage, thyroid disease, tremors, muscle weakness, poor coordination, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and blurred vision. Scary stuff.
So you can see why the mineral, lithium, has gotten a bad rap too.
Did you know that the soft drink “7-UP” originally had lithium in it? Their slogan was “It takes the ouch out of the grouch.” The name of the beverage came from the atomic weight of lithium (rounded up from 6.9) and UP representing its power to lift spirits. Just a little trivia to liven up a party.
But the pharmaceutical version of lithium and the nutritional version are very different.
The element, lithium, is capable of stimulating neuron growth and repairing neurons and can help with several psychiatric symptoms.
Pharmaceutical lithium, typically lithium carbonate or lithium citrate, is usually prescribed in the range of 600 to 1800 mg for treatment of bipolar disorder, recurrent depression, and suicidal tendencies. It is typically taken several times a day to maintain constant levels as lithium is quickly excreted from the body.
Because of the serious side effects, blood levels must be checked regularly in patients taking lithium at pharmaceutical doses.
Lithium requires a consistent level of salt in the diet. Lithium carbonate can become toxic due to low levels of salt, explaining one of the reasons for the adverse side effects of pharma lithium.
Having said all that scary stuff about lithium, the number 3 element on the periodic table, it is an important mineral for all of us. We obtain lithium naturally from our soil (and absorbed into vegetables and grains) and from our water.
In fact, a provisional Recommended Daily Allowance of 1 mg per day for a 154 lb adult is recommended by scientists. But 1 mg may not be enough for those who are deficient in lithium or who may need additional support.
To determine if someone could benefit from low dose lithium, factors such as family history, clinical symptoms or even a lithium deficiency detected from a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) must be considered. Ask me for more information about how to conduct a HTMA test inexpensively from home.
These clinical symptoms may be indicators that nutritional lithium can help:
- Irritability (this one is likely the most indicative)
- Mood Disorder (depression/mania)
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Addictions and Substance Abuse
- Eating Disorders
- Cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s
- Lyme Disease
What can Nutritional Lithium do?
Lithium deficiency is one of the most common mineral deficiencies associated with nearly every type of psychiatric disorder.
Studies have shown lithium’s medicinal qualities in positive treatment of:
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Parkinson’s disease
- Bipolar Disorder
- Suicide prevention
- Irritability, Anger, and Aggression
- Addiction and Substance Abuse
- Eating Disorders
- Lyme Disease
Lithium works in many ways in our bodies to:
- Stimulate the circulation of several key neurotrophic factors such as BDNF and NT-3, which are proteins that regulate the growth and survival of neurons
- Stabilize neurotransmitters such as serotonin, glutamate and dopamine
- Modulates MAO activity, the enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin
- Decreases inflammation by suppressing cytokines and regulates fatty acid usage
- Helps with Vitamin B12 and Folate transportation
- Protects against free radicals and increases glutathione, the body’s major antioxidant, in the brain
- Improves mitochondrial function, the power houses in our cells
- Inhibits the brain damaging enzyme, GSK3.
- Cleans plaques and tangles by stimulating autophagy
- Increases grey matter
- Enhances nerve cell growth
Types and Dosages
Nutritional lithium is generally sold as lithium citrate, lithium orotate or lithium aspartate. Lithium orotate or citrate is recommended. Lithium asparate is an excitotoxin which can exhaust neuron receptors and lead to inflammation and headaches.
Litium orotate, at smaller doses, has been found to achieve the same effect as lithium carbonate (the pharmaceutical version) and without the potential adverse side effects.
A dosage of 2 to 5 mg of lithium orotate is recommended (Dr. James Greenblatt) for a healthy adult simply seeking optimal health. For people with clinical symptoms (as above), a dose of 5 to 40 mg is recommended. Remember that pharmaceutical lithium is typically prescribed in doses from 600 to 1800 mg. So we are talking about really low dose lithium when we discuss nutritional lithium.
Side effects? According to Dr. James Greenblatt, psychiatrist, and Dr. Jonathan Wright, none have been noted even up to 40 mg.
- Always work with your healthcare practitioner when implementing a course of lithium as you would any new supplementation.
- Checking serum (blood) levels of lithium after about 3 months of usage is advised.
- Monitor thyroid levels. Zinc protects thyroid levels and is also recommended to take along with lithium.
- It is a good idea to take essential fatty acids along with low dose lithium particularly with those who have known essential fatty acid deficiency.
If low dose lithium works as well as pharmaceutical lithium without the side effects, why doesn’t Big Pharma jump on that bandwagon? Pharmaceutical companies have nothing to gain by marketing or researching an inexpensive element that is available readily. Plus they cannot obtain a patent on a natural element. For that reason, nutritional lithium doesn’t get much notoriety.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Low dose lithium, not just for bipolar disorder.
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Joli Tripp and Simple Changes Healthy Results are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
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Nutritional Lithium: A Cinderella Story, James M. Greenblatt, MD, 2016
Nutritional Essentials for Mental Health, Leslie E. Korn, 2016