Mood for Life

nutrition, exercise, meditation optimized

Lithium deficiency is real


3d render of the lithium element from the periodic table

Lithium was once used as a key ingredient in a soft drink invented in 1929 by Charles Leipe Grigg, an American from Price Branch, Missouri. He initially called his drink “Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas”. He later changed the name to ” 7 Up Lithiated Lemon-Lime”.

The “7” in the name comes from the atomic mass of lithium. He called his drink 7-Up presumably because of the ability of lithium to elevate the mood. These were obviously low concentrations of lithium citrate; as in deep warm springs yielding lithium salts that have been used for centuries to calm visitors at spas.

In 1962, George Winokur[1] introduced lithium to Washington University in St. Louis (where I happened to do my adult psychiatric residency and child fellowship), having the Barnes Hospital pharmacy make up the pills and achieving an “amazing remission” in a patient who had failed on thorazine treatment and eighteen sessions of electroconvulsive therapy. This was the beginning of the widespread use of lithium in the United States for bipolar disorder and later for mania prophylaxis and still later as an adjunctive treatment for depression; it is today the only psychotropic medication that does not carry the “black box” disclaimer of potentially leading to suicidal thoughts.

The lithium ion is the third element on the periodic table and as it is just above sodium, it does have similar chemical properties to sodium.  In the beginning of the twentieth century, lithium salt was prescribed as a substitute for table salt because it was not associated with high blood pressure; however, use in high arbitrary doses could lead to toxicity, so was discontinued for that purpose.

Lithium appears to be a nutritionally essential trace element found predominantly in plant-derived foods and drinking water[2], although its function has not been fully described. This trace element is typically present in all human organs and tissues, and is equally distributed in body water, as lithium is absorbed from the intestinal tract and excreted by the kidneys.

Recent research studies measuring the effects of trace levels of lithium, commonly found in lithia waters (on the order of 2 mg/liter compared to typical pharmacologic doses of 900 mg/ day), have demonstrated neuroprotective abilities[3], as well as improvements in mood and cognitive function[4].

Studies on the local concentration of lithium in some municipal water supplies suggest that lithium has moderating effects on suicidal and violent criminal behaviors[5]. In addition to a whole-food varied-plant diet four 12 ounce glasses of water is recommended.  I keep a paper cup dispenser near every source of water in my home and drink a five-ounce cup or two each time I wash my hands.

[1] Dr. Winokur, together with colleagues Eli Robbins and Samuel Guze — with whom I studied while at Washington University — established the first written formalized criteria for mental disorders, the so-called Feighner criteria, establishing the basic model for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual series (DSM).  The motivation for these criteria was totally as a way to compare research studies on similar patients and not to be taken too literally, a position lost in the many later DSM versions and now falling in disrepute.  Dr. Winokur is credited with the statement “Making up new sets of diagnostic criteria in American psychiatry has become a cottage industry with little attempt at quality control”, source Glicksman, A. (2009). “Jesus Loves Me, that I Know, for the Chi-Square Tells Me So” Privileged and Non-Privileged Approaches to the Study of Religion and Aging: A Response. Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging, 21(4), 316-317. doi:10.1080/15528030903127155.

[2] Schrauzer GN (2002) Lithium: occurrence, dietary intakes, nutritional essentiality. J Am Coll Nutr 21:14–21.

[3] Xu, J., Culman, J., Blume, A., Brecht, S., & Gohlke, P. (2003). Chronic Treatment With a Low Dose of Lithium Protects the Brain Against Ischemic Injury by Reducing Apoptotic Death. Stroke, 34(5), 1287-1292. doi:10.1161/01.str.0000066308.25088.64.

[4] Schrauzer, De Vroey. Effects of Nutritional Lithium Supplementation on Mood. Biological Trace Element Research Volume 40 1994 pages 89-101.

[5] Schrauzer, G. N., & Shrestha, K. P. (1990). Lithium in drinking water and the incidences of crimes, suicides, and arrests related to drug addictions. Biological Trace Element Research, 25(2), 105-113. doi:10.1007/bf02990271

[6] Armstrong, L. E., Ganio, M. S., Casa, D. J., Lee, E. C., Mcdermott, B. P., Klau, J. F., . . . Lieberman, H. R. (2011). Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women. Journal of Nutrition, 142(2), 382-388. doi:10.3945/jn.111.142000.