Published: Sep 21, 2014
So I read an article in the New York Times with the provocative title, Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?
I read that piece with unusual interest because the author, Anna Fels, is not only a highly regarded psychiatrist and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical School, she’s the sister of a close friend. I’ve known her for four decades. She’s not someone I’d expect to see on Molly at a rave — for me, she defines “careful” and “conscientious.” So if Anna Fels is suggesting that we might do well to ingest something…
What’s the appeal? “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.”
Suicide terrifies me. So does dementia. As someone who lives by his wits, I’m all in when the question is brain health. And who’d reject a better mood?
How did Anna Fels come to make such outrageous claims?
Because they’re not outrageous. They’ve been verified. As she writes:
In 1990, a study was published looking at 27 Texas counties with a variety of lithium levels in their water. The authors discovered that people whose water had the least amount of lithium had significantly greater levels of suicide, homicide and rape than the people whose water had the higher levels of lithium. The group whose water had the highest lithium level had nearly 40 percent fewer suicides than that with the lowest lithium level.
Almost 20 years later, a Japanese study that looked at 18 municipalities with more than a million inhabitants over a five-year period confirmed the earlier study’s finding: Suicide rates were inversely correlated with the lithium content in the local water supply.
There’s been so little publicity about lithium that most of us think of it as only the power in batteries, but more than a century ago, health-minded Americans traveled to “lithium springs” to drink the mineral-rich waters. In 1929, a soft drink company introduced a soda containing lithium citrate. Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda was marketed as a hangover cure: “It takes the ouch out of grouch.” It’s still sold, without lithium. Its current name: 7-Up.
In 1970, psychiatrists began prescribing lithium to even out manic highs. Readers of American poetry are familiar with its biggest success story, Robert Lowell. As the editor of his letters has written, “Lithium treatment relieved him from suffering the idea that he was morally and emotionally responsible for the fact that he relapsed. However, it did not entirely prevent relapses.”
I’ve been taking it, with no negative effects.
How do you take lithium?
I bought a bottle of Ionic Lithium and added 10 drops in a glass of water, yielding a daily dose of 500 mcg. The bottle contains 100 doses — a three-month supply for $22. (To buy Ionic Lithium from Amazon, click here.)
Or you could drink Gerolsteiner, “the Cadillac of mineral waters.” It’s rich in magnesium and calcium — and .13 per liter of lithium. That seems like nothing? Consider that doses of lithium as small as 0.3 mg per day have produced cognitive improvement in Alzheimer’s patients. I can’t speak to the morality of having Gerolsteiner delivered to your home — if you can justify denting the earth with a giant carbon footprint, go for it. (To order 24 16.9 bottles of Gerolsteiner Sparkling Mineral Water — with free shipping — from Amazon, click here.)
Needless to say, the usual consumer warnings apply. Read the label, do your research, ask your doctor.