What Lithium is Medication Used For
Lithium had been used for the control of mania since the late 1870s but became an abandoned practice in psychiatry until new compounds were developed and approved by the FDA in 1970 for the treatment of mania.3,4
Lithium salts or compounds are used as psychiatric medication (mood stabilizers) and are prescribed for these conditions:
- MDD or major depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- MCI, minor cognitive impairment
- ADHD in children
- Schizophrenia after other antipsychotic medications have not worked3
Lithium Alternative Names and Slang
Lithium refers to the metal, or mineral, however, the word lithium has become synonymous (although not entirely accurately) with all the various compounds and salts that have been produced in pharmaceutical labs across the world. The natural form of the element is simply called lithium and is not patentable because it is a natural element found in mineral deposits in the earth.
Various forms of compounds and salts will contain lithium, synthesized using various types of binding agents, such as:
- Lithium carbonate (lithium bound with carbon, currently prescribed as a mood stabilizer for mental disorders)
- Lithium citrate (lithium bound with citric acid, used in original 7UP soda pop, later banned for toxicity/deaths)
- Lithium bromide (lithium bound with bromide in table salt, abandoned due to toxicity/deaths)
- Lithium chloride (lithium bound with sodium chloride, used as a replacement table salt but later banned due to toxicity/deaths)
- Lithium fluoride (lithium bound with fluoride, never used due to toxicity in trials)
- Lithium iodide (lithium bound with iodine, never used due to toxicity in trials)
- Lithium urate (lithium bound with urine extracts for dissolving uric acid crystals related to gout, but abandoned due to dose-related toxicity)
- Lithium orotate (lithium bound with a natural chemical called orotic acid, found in breast milk7 and certain root vegetables, available as a supplement without a prescription)
There have been many other compounds/mixtures produced over the last century and a half. Some of these were found to be toxic, as in the table salt version, and unsuitable for use in food products, as in the 7-up soda pop of the 1950s. Some have survived and exist in pharmaceutical products used today.
Brand names include numerous examples such as Theralite, Efalith, Lito, Prolix, and hundreds of additional trade names.
Lithium Side Effects
Side effects that are very common happen in greater than 10% of the people taking prescription drugs containing lithium salts or compounds and these include:
- Kidney toxicity may lead to kidney failure
- Memory loss
- Gastrointestinal issues; diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting
- Increased urination
- Leukocytosis, elevation in white blood cell count
- Hyperreflexia, reflexes become over-responsive
- Mental confusion
- Muscle twitches
- Vertigo, dizziness
- Weight gain
- Lowered sodium levels
Common adverse effects were seen in patients at a rate of between 1% and 10%:
- Hypothyroidism lowered thyroid hormone levels is 6 times more frequent compared to placebo in trials
- Gout (a form of painful arthritis from deposits of uric acid in the feet)
- Goiter (inflammation of the neck, enlargement of the thyroid gland)
- Movement disorders, Parkinsonism, dystonia, etc.
- Thinning or loss of hair
- Use in pregnancy is potentially linked to birth defects, specifically in the malformations of the heart known as Ebstein’s anomaly.
Lithium Withdrawal Symptoms
Studies show that a gradual reduction of lithium medication produces less severe adverse reactions compared to sudden cessation.5,6
Withdrawal symptoms coming off lithium include:
- Mood disorders
- Return of mania
- Return of bipolar symptoms
- There are very few clinical studies remarking on any adverse effects other than the above.
- There are anecdotal reports of nausea, sweating, fevers, tremors, dizziness, swelling, crying spells, chest pain and tightness across the chest, eye pain, insomnia, disturbed sleep, depression, suicidality, and many others. It is not clear whether these symptoms are related specifically to discontinuation of the medication, or return of original symptoms, or a combination of these factors. More investigative studies on this subject are needed.
Abrupt Lithium withdrawal can cause pronounced episodes of returning mania5 as well as Bipolar relapses. Compared to gradual withdrawal patients had less severe returning symptoms overall.6
No published studies were found relating to withdrawal from natural lithium or lithium orotate. At times, someone may choose to slowly convert from the prescription form of Lithium (Lithium Carbonate) to lithium orotate, as a way to bridge off of the drug. This technique involves gradually taking away the medication version and slowly introducing lithium orotate. This is a pragmatic route for many, but it should be discussed with an integrative medical doctor prior to attempting.
There are reasonable theories regarding the role of trace minerals in respect to mental health.
It may be possible that a trace mineral deficient person (which is common due to over-farming techniques) may respond positively to lithium. An unsubstantiated hypothesis may be that lithium is providing a certain role for these deficiencies and possibly covering the function of other similar minerals. It could be argued that trace mineral supplementation could offer support and that the use of trace mineral supplementation during withdrawal may be of benefit. As this is a bit of a tenuous assertion, please discuss this with an appropriate doctor who has both knowledge of medications as well as supplemental methods before considering this protocol.