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Can Lithium in Water Supply Prevent Dementia?

Are you drinking lithium in water? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? New research suggests that when lithium levels in water are high, dementia is lower.
Can Lithium in Water Supply Prevent Dementia?
Brain decline and dementia or aging as memory loss concept for brain cancer decay or an Alzheimer’s disease with the medical icon of a old rusting mechanical gears and cog wheels of metal in the shape of a human head with rust.

The chances are good that you are exposed to some lithium almost every day of your life. That’s because this natural element is plentiful in nature. It is found in rocks and soil all over the earth. That means it ends up in our food and water supply. Trace amounts can be found in tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, milk and mushrooms, to name just a few common food sources. Because levels of lithium in water are highly variable, researchers have been studying long-term exposure to this element and its impact on the brain.

Could microdoses of lithium delay the development of Alzheimer’s disease? A new study from Canada suggests that may indeed be the case (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Jan. 21, 2020). Before we share the latest research on lithium and the brain, please stay with us while we present a brief historical perspective on lithium in water. 

Research on Lithium in Water:

People who drink water with higher levels of lithium may be less likely to develop dementia. That’s the conclusion of a large epidemiological study from Denmark (JAMA Psychiatry, online, Aug. 23, 2017). Investigators compared 73,731 patients with dementia to 733,653 people without dementia. The subjects ranged in age from 75 to 85 years of age.

Measuring Lithium in Water:

The researchers measured lithium in drinking water from 151 communities around the Denmark and mapped where patients and controls had lived from 1986 to through 2013. Those exposed to naturally higher levels of lithium in their drinking water were less likely to have a diagnosis of dementia.

Prior research has linked lithium treatment to better learning and memory in laboratory animals. In addition, people with bipolar disorder undergoing long-term lithium treatment appear to have a reduced risk for dementia. This study seems to confirm these previous observations.

Lithium vs. Alzheimer’s Disease:

There are currently no effective treatments against Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers at McGill University in Canada have just published an intriguing rodent study that goes beyond lithium in water (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Jan. 21, 2020). 

Previous research by this team led them to believe that a special microdose lithium preparation (NP03) could interrupt “…early amyloid pathology stages in the Alzheimer’s-like transgenic rat” (Translational Psychiatry, Aug. 1, 2017). They concluded that:

“These findings thus suggest that NP03 reverses key AD [Alzheimer’s disease] pathologies in an in vivo AD model, and that it may have therapeutic value in the early stages of the disease.”

The latest research involved administering microdoses to lithium to rats bred to develop an Alzheimer’s-like brain disorder. This time, though, the brain pathology was more advanced. This would be roughly equivalent to when amyloid plaque would be present in the brain and cognitive decline would begin to be detected. In the rodent study, the pathology was diminished and cognition improved. 

Lithium vs. Bipolar Disorder, Depression and ADHD:

Over the last few years, evidence has been accumulating that low levels of lithium may be beneficial against a wide range of mental problems. If you would like to learn more about this history of lithium for what used to be called manic depression (now bipolar disorder), here is a link

Did you know that Mineral Wells, Texas was renowned for its lithium-rich water? People found the water helpful for a variety of mental disorders. The original 7 Up soda had lithium in it. Learn all about this history of lithium here:

Rediscovering Lithium for Mood Disorders
Lithium is a mainstay for treating bipolar disorder. Side effects are scary, but could low-dose supplements be safer and more effective for mood disorders?

You will also find out about low-dose lithium in water as a potential preventive against suicide. There is also interest in low doses of this element for treating depression and possibly even ADHD. Here is a link to a free podcast about this intriguing application. 

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
  • Wilson, E. N., et al, "BACE1 inhibition by microdose lithium formulation NP03 rescues memory loss and early stage amyloid neuropathology," Translational Psychiatry, Aug. 1, 2017, doi: 10.1038/tp.2017.169.
  • Wilson, E. N., et al, "NP03, a Microdose Lithium Formulation, Blunts Early Amyloid Post-Plaque Neuropathology in McGill-R-Thy1-APP Alzheimer-Like Transgenic Rats," Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Jan. 21, 2020, doi: 10.3233/JAD-190862.
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