Lithium is sometimes used to treat certain blood disorders, depression, schizophrenia, disorders of impulse control and certain mental illnesses in children. The biggest problem with lithium treatment is people's perception of it. Since its most well known use is for bi-polar disorder, lithium sometimes encounters the same stigma as mental illness itself.

When lithium is used at a low dose, as an add-on medication, we are usually targeting a particular symptom that is already present -- usually depression If the whole idea of lithium scares you, you might want to start with some comments from the world's expert on how lithium works, Dr. Manji. Then come back here for basic information people who are going to take it will need, which follows.

Lithium, an naturally occurring mineral like sodium, was found to have effects on mood problems in the 1940ís. It has been the main medication for Bipolar Disorder (formerly "manic-depressive disorder") for many years. Lithium is still the best researched medication for this condition; no other medication has been shown to be superior in controlling depression, suicidal thoughts, or long-term mood stability. It also has been shown to decrease anger and sudden impulse decisions in people who do not have bipolar disorder.

Lithium is like two different medications: low doses are pretty easy to manage and produce few side effects. High doses are tricky to manage, require close monitoring to stay safe, and can cause side effects which make people want to consider alternative treatments.

The exact way this medication works is not known. It affects a several stages in the process by which nerve cells communicate with one another (at least three steps from the receptor to the nucleus). This is an area of very active research.

Lithium was first discovered as a chemical element in 1817. By the mid-1800s, there was great interest in "urate imbalances", which were thought to explain a variety of diseases, including mania and depression. Around this time, it was discovered that a solution of lithium carbonate could dissolve stones made of urate.

The first recorded use of lithium for the treatment of mania, based in part on the urate/lithium connection, was 1871. Use of lithium carbonate (the current pill form of lithium) to prevent depression came in 1886.

As the public learned about lithium, great interest in this mineral led to the use of mineral-rich spring waters in spas, baths, and beverages. Because most of these mineral waters actually contained only traces of lithium, the dangers of lithium and higher concentrations were not recognized. When a tablet form was used as a salt substitute in low-sodium diets, there were many reports of severe lithium side effects, and some deaths.

Lithium also has some great brain-boosting effects. There is evidence that lithium is an anti-aging nutrient for human brains. And there are also some very strong reasons to believe that lithium therapy will slow the progression of serious degenerative mental problems, including Alzheimer's disease, senile dementia, and Parkinson's disease.
But according to their report in the Lancet, Wayne State University (Detroit) researchers found that lithium has the ability to both protect and renew brain cells. Eight of 10 individuals who took lithium showed an average 3 percent increase in brain grey matter in just four weeks. Lithium may help to generate entirely new cells too: Another group of researchers recently reported that lithium also enhances nerve cell DNA replication. DNA replication is a first step in the formation of a new cell of any type. Studies done years ago have shown that very low amounts of lithium can also measurably influence brain function for the better.


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