Lithium May Affect Thyroid Function Through inhibiting Tyrosine Utilization

Lithium is an essential nutrient and important in brain health. It has been shown to decrease stress reactivity, improve GABA function, and help with bipolar disorder and other forms of depression.

Unfortunately, pharmacological doses (300mg+) of lithium carbonate have been shown, in some people, to interfere with the production of another essential factor in mood and brain health: thyroid hormone. Lithium use is frequently associated with goiter and hypothyroidism. Nevertheless, in severe cases of bipolar disorder, the adverse effects on thyroid function have been seen as acceptable (with reservations) by mainstream medicine in light of the beneficial effects of lithium on mood and functioning. Thankfully, lithium does not appear to contribute to thyroid autoimmunity.

Goiter and hypothyroidism are exacerbated by iodine insufficiency or deficiency and, unfortunately, iodine levels in the general population here in the US have been declining over the last few decades due to inadequate intake of iodine-rich foods (like seaweed) and iodine-supplemented table salt.

To my knowledge, nutritional doses (5mg-30mg) of lithium orotate have not been studied in the literature for their effects on thyroid function. I suspect that the dramatically lower doses of lithium usually administered for nutritional supplementation (as compared to pharmacological dosing) are insufficient to cause appreciable decline in thyroid function, but this has yet to be studied specifically.

One major biochemical mechanism of benefit from lithium is the moderation of dopamine and other catecholamine “spikes” associated with mania and psychological stress. Lithium seems to help moderate catecholamine spikes in part through inhibition of tyrosine utilization to form dopamine, although the mechanism is not completely understood.

Tyrosine is not only used for catecholamine production, but is the primary precursor for thyroid hormones T3 and T4. The thyroid gland uses tyrosine to create thyroid hormone, and lithium has been shown to decrease circulating levels of tyrosine as well as inhibit thyroid tissue’s ability to utilize tyrosine. The connection between lithium administration and decreased thyroid hormone production (hypothyroidism) is quite possibly due to decreased availability of tyrosine for the synthesis of T3 and T4.

This begs the questions:

  1. Do nutritional doses of lithium suppress thyroid function?
  2. Would co-administration of tyrosine (and/or iodine) ameliorate the decrease in thyroid function caused by lithium administration?

I would love to see some studies done on this question. If you know of any studies or have other comments, please comment below.

References

Inhibitory effect of lithium on uptake and incorporation of tyrosine into protein in three thyroid preparations in vitro. – PubMed – NCBI.

Laakso, M. L., & Oja, S. S. (1979). Transport of tryptophan and tyrosine in rat brain slices in the presence of lithium. Neurochemical Research, 4(3), 411–423.

Marcus, S. R., Nadiger, H. A., Chandrakala, M. V., Rao, T. I., & Sadasivudu, B. (1986). Acute and short-term effects of lithium on glutamate metabolism in rat brain. Biochemical Pharmacology, 35(3), 365–369.

McFarlane, H. G., Steele, J., Vinion, K., Bongiovanni, R., Double, M., & Jaskiw, G. E. (2011). Acute lithium administration selectively lowers tyrosine levels in serum and brain. Brain Research, 1420, 29–36. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainres.2011.08.054

Kupka, R. W., Nolen, W. A., Post, R. M., McElroy, S. L., Altshuler, L. L., Denicoff, K. D., et al. (2002). High rate of autoimmune thyroiditis in bipolar disorder: lack of association with lithium exposure. Biological Psychiatry, 51(4), 305–311.

About Nicholas Hundley, MS, CNS

Nicholas Hundley is a nutritional biochemist and certified nutrition specialist. He is the main author for the MindWhale blog at MindWhale.com. He practices nutrition and can be found at NicholasHundley.com

4 thoughts on “Lithium May Affect Thyroid Function Through inhibiting Tyrosine Utilization”

  1. Hello my name is Susan. I am 51 years old and suffer from depression most of my life because of bullying from people because of my multi-racial background. I was on zoloft for about 6 months and was not able to take it much longer because of the many side effects, one of them which is weight gain. My friend who is bi-polar told me about lithium orotate and that it was working for him. I bought a bottle and immediately start taking it. The first 4 days was great, i felt good and upbeat and my anxiety and depression was at bay. By day 5 it felt like someone had beaten me to a pulp and I could hardly move. All of my energy was gone and i felt as if i was going to died. My body shut down, I was only taking 5mg, the first day i took one the second day i took 2 =10, the third day 2 =10, and the fourth day i took =15 mg. I guess that did it because, I felt as if i was going to died, and started to breath very heavy and urinating quite frequently. I knew it had to be the lithium, so I stop taking it and now my body is going back to normal. I thought this would be my miracle drug but it turned out to be quite the opposite. I have tested my thyroid on several occasion and the doctor said there was just a mild inflammation, nothing to worry about. What are your thoughts about my reaction to this mineral?

  2. I just found this page and am curious too. I need to do something natural for my brain, but also have thyroid issues and just started taking iodine. I was going to take lithium orotate until I found out about the iodine, so figured I should start on the iodine before starting on the l.o. Hopefully high(compared to given requirements) doses of iodine with tyrosine and low doses of orotate will cancel out any bad effects affecting the thyroid. Hope to read more on this topic if you have learned anything more in the last year!

  3. I’m also interested in the topic and would be very grateful if you could share any studies of info received on the topic. See miracles with lithium orotate in clients and does Advanced methylation DNA testing… but as general practice give my clients Lugol’s iodine to make sure they are not deficient. My understanding was that lithium and iodine competes for absorption?

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