Lithium is the gold-standard medication to treat bipolar disorder. Its use goes back to the 1970s, and it has been studied for use in psychiatry since around the 1940s. Lithium was even a key ingredient in a new soft drink in the 1920s called “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda.” We know the drink today as 7-Up (they stopped adding lithium to the drink in 1948).
Another cool fact about lithium: despite being a wildly popular psychiatric medication, doctors and scientists know very little about how and why it works. But it does.
The Case For Adding Lithium To Your Drinking Water
You already know that in the United States our tap water contains small levels of fluoride to promote good dental health. Why not add a little lithium in there too and help our collective mental health?
Whoa! I know the idea of spiking our drinking water with a psychiatric drug sounds crazy. And maybe you think I’ve finally gone over the edge. But at least let me explain.
According to this New York Times article ‘Should We All Take A Bit of Lithium’ we already have trace amounts of the drug in our drinking water, thanks to mother nature. The amount of lithium in the water ranges from practically nothing to .170mg per liter (a very tiny fraction of what bipolar patients receive). Even at such small levels, scientists have found benefits:
Evidence is slowly accumulating that relatively tiny doses of lithium can have beneficial effects. They appear to decrease suicide rates significantly and may even promote brain health and improve mood.
In 1990, scientists looked at 27 Texas counties and how the overall mental health of the population in those counties correlated with the amounts of lithium in the water supply. Guess what? The areas with a larger concentration of lithium saw less crime and 40% fewer suicides. That’s a huge difference! The same study was conducted in Japan 20 years later with the same results.
Lithium Protects The Brain
New research is beginning to show that lithium not only protects the brain, but also promotes more growth of gray matter. The implications of this mean that lithium might play an important role in preventing dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
A Danish population study of more than a million subjects discovered that those who purchased lithium only once (presumably people in whom a significant mood disorder had already been diagnosed) had an increased rate of dementia compared with those never exposed to lithium. After taking two or more prescriptions, however, the rate of dementia decreased and remained at those low levels.
You don’t even need to be a bipolar patient or see a doctor to get lithium. You can buy it right on Amazon, or at your local vitamin store. Just look for either lithium carbonate or lithium orate (please see disclaimer at bottom of post).
Should Lithium Be Added To Our Drinking Water?
I’m probably the least qualified to answer this question. On one hand scientists seem to have found a positive correlation between levels of lithium in drinking water and the overall mental health of the population.
But there always seems to be some unintended consequence. I don’t know what that would be and I’d want scientists and other mental health experts to heavily weigh all the negatives as well.
One problem I see is with just convincing the general public that this is a good idea. There are always conspiracy theorists out there who will say this is an attempt by the government at mind control (or something wacky like that). Others will worry about health issues. And some will just argue we shouldn’t be forcing people to ingest any drugs via our drinking water.
In short, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. But it’s something worth thinking about for the future.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor (I don’t even pretend to be one on TV) or other health care professional. Nothing in this post should be considered medical advice. Before starting any new supplement, consult with your doctor first. For any mental health issues, please seek help from a qualified professional.Follow @bradsreader