Lithium is most commonly known for its role in lithium batteries and as a prescription mood stabilizer for people with bipolar disorder, but did you know that lithium is an essential micronutrient? Yep, it is. The body and brain don’t work very well when lithium is deficient. And what’s more, YOU may not have enough of it.
James Greenblatt, MD, psychiatrist and author of a book on nutritional lithium states:
“after twenty six years of experience, the single intervention I believe that has the most significant effect on the [mental] health of my patients is nutritional lithium.”
Could lithium deficiency be a root cause of your concerns?
What Lithium Does
Micro-doses of lithium can lift, stabilize, enhance, and/or calm mood in anyone that doesn’t have enough of this essential micronutrient in their body and brain. People with irritability in any form almost always benefit from supplemental lithium, but the benefits of lithium help people with all sorts of mental or emotional concerns. Why? Because lithium normalizes and improves neuronal activity in various ways.
- Lithium helps people with anger problems and irritability
- Lithium helps people with ADD, ADHD, or other attention problems
- Lithium helps people with anxiety
- Lithium helps people with depression
- Lithium helps people with bipolar disorder
- Lithium helps people with addictions or substance abuse
- Lithium helps people with eating disorders
- Lithium helps people with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s
- Lithium is also used for Lyme disease, headache, and more
How do you know if you need more lithium?
Some people, through a combination of good genes, good health, and high lithium levels in their drinking water, have plenty of lithium for their brains. Many of us, however, don’t have enough. Your potential need for lithium is indicated by brain and mood symptoms, your family history, and laboratory testing. These are discussed below.
Symptomatic Indicators of Lithium Need
If you are struggling with anything from anger, irritability, low mood, depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, substance abuse, eating disorders, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, or other mood or brain problems, you may want to get evaluated for lithium levels (more below).
Family History Indicators of Lithium Need
Whether or not you have specific mental or emotional concerns, if you have a family member with a psychiatric illness such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, bipolar, etc, your mood may still benefit greatly from lithium supplementation. Again, you should test your levels to confirm your need (more below).
Laboratory Analysis of Your Levels
The most reliable way to measure lithium levels in your body is by getting a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA). Unlike some other metals, lithium is found in hair tissue in amounts consistently correlative of body levels, so hair testing is a reliable way to measure lithium.
If you’re not taking lithium, blood testing for lithium levels is useless. However, if you’re on prescription lithium, your doctor needs to take periodic blood tests to make sure your blood level of lithium is not getting too high.
Nutritional doses of lithium have never shown negative side effects; on the contrary, supplementary lithium is often beneficial for people struggling with even minor mood or brain health problems. But before you run out and start taking lithium, realize that mega doses can be harmful and even lethal. It is incredibly important you don’t overdose!
How Lithium Works
Even though lithium is the most effective mood stabilizer available, it hasn’t been studied as much as pharmaceutical mood stabilizing drugs because pharmaceutical companies can’t make money with it (it’s a natural mineral, so it’s not patentable). Still, researchers have uncovered some exciting things lithium does at the molecular and cellular levels.
- Normalize the circadian rhythm
- Increase BDNF and neuroplasticity (always a good thing).
- Improve brain cells’ ability to utilize methylfolate and methyl-B12, essential cofactors for creating the mood-enhancing and brain-boosting neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
- Decrease damage to neurons
- Remove and slow down creation of Alzheimer’s tangles in brain tissue.
- Decrease stress-induced neuronal damage.
Important Facts You Should Know about Lithium
- If you’re low in lithium, the benefits of low dose nutritional lithium far outweigh the risk. Work with a qualified nutritional, functional, or integrative health practitioner for monitoring and correct dosing.
- Nutritional lithium dosing (which I’m writing about here) is given in the form of lithium orotate and is generally between 1mg–30mg daily. Prescription lithium, on the other hand, is prescribed by a health professional, is generally for bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or major depression, and is given in the form of lithium carbonate at much higher doses (in the range of 600mg to 1800mg or even more).
- Lithium (nutritional or prescription) should always be taken with omega–3 and omega–6 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamin E to maximize benefits and reduce side effects. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that everything (especially the brain) works better with a healthier diet.
- Prescription lithium is in the class of drugs called mood stabilizers. It is prescribed as Lithobid, Lithane, or Eskalith. Other (very different) drugs used as mood stabilizers are Valproic Acid (Depakote or Valproate), Carbamazepine (Tegretol), Lamotrigine (Lamictal), and Dextromethorphan / Quinidine (Nuedexta).
- Your most common source of lithium is through drinking water. However, different water supplies vary greatly in their amounts of lithium. Additionally, reverse osmosis removes all minerals, including lithium, raising concerns of lithium insufficiency in those drinking reverse osmosis water.
- Food may contain lithium, but again—the levels are highly variable and it is impossible to know for sure how much is in your food.
- If you are hypothyroid or your thyroid is otherwise struggling, address your thyroid health first before supplementing with lithium.
- Natural spring waters with high levels of lithium have been renowned for centuries for their healing properties.
- Lithium was added to the original formulation of 7-UP soft drink for its mood-boosting benefits.
Nutritional Lithium: A Cinderella Story by James M Greenblatt, MD and Kayla Grossman, RN
New York Times: Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?
New York Times: I Don’t Believe in God, but I Believe in Lithium