Since its discovery in 1817, researchers in the physical sciences have gained a deeper appreciation of lithium, an alkali earth metal. In October 2019, The Nobel Foundation awarded The Nobel Prize in Chemistry to three scientists who are collectively responsible for the advent of the lithium-ion battery. Writing that: “this lightweight, rechargeable and powerful battery is now used in everything from mobile phones to laptops and electric vehicle,” The Nobel Foundation credits the Prize Recipients with “creat[ing] a rechargeable world” and contributing to progress towards a fossil fuel-free society. (1)
Progress in knowledge for uses of lithium in the health setting has been slow. As early as the 1850s, British physicians utilized lithium as a treatment for gout, and 100 years later the Australian psychiatrist Dr. John Cade dispensed lithium to treat manic depressive illness.
Erroneously, much of the public – as well as some health professionals – continues to think of lithium almost exclusively as a high-dose drug. Low-dose (microdose) nutritional lithium is not a synthetic chemical or pharmaceutical concoction. As a naturally-occurring mineral, nutritional lithium can be utilized in micro-doses mimicking those found in our food and water supplies to balance brain chemistry safely and effectively.
In a 2014 review study, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi – a respected advocate of lithium, wrote that “lithium is, by far, the most proven drug to keep neurons alive, in animals and in humans, consistently and with many replicated studies.”(2)
Lithium has remarkable neuroprotective mechanisms. The scientific literature has shown that lithium modulates GSK-3, enhances the release of neurotrophic factors such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and promotes epigenetic changes that may help to reset the trajectory of mental illness.
Utilized judiciously as a facet of integrative psychiatry, low-dose (microdose) nutritional lithium lithium is powerful, reliable, and cost effective. I am hopeful that psychiatry draws example from the nearly ubiquitous presence of the Nobel winning technology of lithium ion batteries – literally, to potentially ‘recharge the brain.” A valuable nutrient with an excellent safety profile, low-dose lithium warrants broader adoption as an effective nondrug approach to help patients take charge of their mental well-being.
1. “Press release: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019,” The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences,” 9 October 2019; accessed at: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2019/press-release/
2. Mauer S, Vergne D, Ghaemi NS. Standard and trace-dose lithium: a systematic review of dementia prevention and other behavioral benefits. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2014;48(9):809–818.