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Lithium Alternatives

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Last Updated on June 11, 2021 by Carol Gillette

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Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus Published Sep 21, 2020
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Lithium alternatives may be of interest if you are worried about the risk of renal, brain, pregnancy, or heart problems, or developing abnormal muscle movements or other complications that have been linked to lithium carbonate, the pharmaceutical synthesized version of lithium.6

Certainly, symptoms that led to being prescribed Lithium may have to some degree been alleviated by the medication, but the ongoing lab testing for Lithium levels and the narrow differences between its neuroprotective attributes and its neurotoxic potential may prove to be daunting to many consumers.7

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Lithium Carbonate vs Lithium Orotate

Lithium alternatives, for some people, may offer a better option for addressing mood swings than conventional psychiatric medications.

There are two forms of lithium available to consumers: there is a natural form of the metal/mineral bound to orate (lithium orotate), considered to have neuroprotective characteristics. And there is its pharmaceutically synthesized counterpart (lithium carbonate). Both the orotate and the carbonate versions of lithium have health applications.

About Lithium Carbonate

Lithium carbonate is synthesized, chemically processed, and sold in the pharmacy. Lithium carbonate is available only with a prescription.

Lithium carbonate carries with it a potentially significant burden of side effects, in some cases severe enough to require hospitalization.10 Studies show an extensive toxicity profile for Lithium carbonate such as hypothyroidism, renal failure, weight gain, neurological issues, and other potential risks.2 From a patient perspective, it is very common to stop lithium treatment mostly due to adverse effects. In one study of 873 patients, 54% discontinued lithium treatment, which equated to 561 episodes of lithium discontinuation. In 62% of episodes, lithium was discontinued due to adverse effects.12

Lithium Carbonate Toxicity

However, if you were prescribed lithium by a doctor or psychiatrist to treat bipolar or other conditions, it would likely have been the pharmaceutical version (lithium carbonate). There is a well-documented risk that for the drug to be effective at suppressing mania the blood levels have to be quite high, and yet a little more than that, lithium carbonate can become dangerous.7,56 For this reason, the carbonate form is considered problematic because it can cause harsh and high-risk side effects. The neuroprotective benefits of Lithium have been very well established.9 And, also so have the neurotoxic effects when the delicate balance has been exceeded.8 It is for this reason that many doctors are guarded about prescribing Lithium because the knife on this one cuts both ways.13,14,17

Lithium Orotate as a Lithium Alternative

In contrast, lithium orotate, sometimes called “nutritional lithium” is a combination of earth-sourced lithium and a compound that is naturally found in the body (orotic acid). Lithium orotate is available over the counter as a nutraceutical and is listed as an essential trace element according to the WHO in its literature on the subject of essential nutrients.1

The orotate form contains much less lithium than the chemically processed versions and it is thought that is why it does not produce the same harsh side effects as lithium carbonate.11 While lithium orotate may not be as prone to causing harsh side effects,15,16 some doctors are skeptical that lithium orotate provides a dosing level that is high enough to produce the therapeutic effect.18 However there is data that indicates that lower doses of lithium orotate than lithium carbonate may achieve therapeutic serum and brain lithium concentrations.19

Studies have suggested that low-level lithium doses from normative environmental sources may provide beneficial mental health effects, leading to a reduction in suicide rates and episodes of violence. These studies hypothesize that a person with low levels of elemental Lithium (Li) intake can possess mood disorders and increased impulsiveness and nervousness.22 This is, in part, supported by the observation of increased frequency of suicide attempts, homicides, and other acts of violence observed in residents within areas where there are low concentrations of Li in water resources (0–12 μg/L).23 One of the attributed mechanisms is that action of Lithium may be required for the delivery and absorption of vitamin B12 and folate that are associated with proper neuromodulation and other biotransformations in the central nervous system. Thus, reduced intake of Li could potentially inhibit the action of these neurochemical activities.24

NEVER STOP TAKING ANY PHARMACEUTICAL DRUG ABRUPTLY UNLESS GUIDED BY A PRESCRIBING PHYSICIAN. ALWAYS SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE BEFORE MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR LITHIUM MEDICATION ROUTINE THAT MAY PUT YOUR HEALTH AT RISK.

Natural Lithium Alternatives

Lithium alternatives are not just limited to lithium orotate. Cleaning up the microbiome, limiting sugars and caffeine, exercise, talk therapies with a vast number of therapeutic focus, and other supplemental inclusions have been shown effective treatments for depression, bipolar presentations, and mood disturbances. And these types of treatments can themselves likely be viable Lithium alternatives.

Please note: None of the information given here should be taken as medical advice, nor acted upon without consulting your prescribing physician or trusted caregiver.

Natural Lithium Alternatives Include:

  • holistic lithium alternativesNutritional lithium orotate 11,15,16,35
  • Organic Keto-based, gluten-free diet 25
  • Minimize MSG and foods that contain glutamate 26
  • Eat 4-6 times per day small meals for preventing reactive hypoglycemia and to maintain blood sugar levels 27,28
  • Eliminate caffeine, especially before eating breakfast 29
  • Tryptophan specifically is a precursor for serotonin 30
  • Reduce toxic body burden and clean up the home, hygiene products, and diet of poisons 31,32
  • Consult naturopathic help to isolate nutritional deficiencies 33
  • Exercise, especially cardio, yoga, or walking 34
  • Taurine 16
  • Orthomolecular support in the way of high dose niacin and Vitamin C 35
  • Omega-3 fatty acids and Eicosapentaenoic acid 16,36,37
  • GABA supplementation 38
  • Microbiome support 39,40,41

Microbiome Health and Mental Health

microbiome mood connectionMuch exciting research has given us a more profound understanding of the connections between a healthy (or unhealthy) microbiome and our mental states.51 Food sensitivities, inability to break down gluten, other digestion issues, maintaining proper and adequate gut bacteria and many other factors can have a significant effect on mood, energy, and even the presence or absence of psychiatric symptoms. In treating psychosis, schizophrenia, and other conditions, studies on the impact of diet and correction of nutrition for a healthy and functioning gut microbiome have been revelatory and surprisingly effective, to say the least.49,50,51

And even other studies show that the microbiome itself can produce brain neurotransmitters GABA, acetylcholine, and dopamine.52 This is truly astounding and could lead someone to question, who or what is really doing the thinking when food cravings and mental phenomena are occurring.

It is important to work on improving gut health. Many of our neurochemicals such as 90 % of our serotonin are naturally produced in the digestive system.55 Having a clean, functioning internal environment is probably one of the most important factors in maintaining overall health, including mental health.

Orthomolecular Treatments of Dr. Abram Hoffer

We owe much to brilliant researchers like Dr. Abram Hoffer for all his work on the connections between proper diet, correct nutrition, and mental health. We recommend anyone interested in learning more about these fascinating studies and clinical trials to include Hoffer’s writings in your own personal research, to gain a fundamental understanding of many aspects of mental health that were previously overlooked in many treatment settings. We would recommend his work on niacin and high-dose vitamin C in the successful treatment of schizophrenia, for example. 53 Hoffer was a pioneer in what we call today orthomolecular medicine, which has helped uncountable persons in attaining better mental health through natural orthomolecular treatments. Alternative to Meds Center attributes much of our success to these principles.

Neurotoxicity in Mental Health

lithium detoxOne of the most effective strategies for mental health may be the removal of toxic accumulations from the body.31,32 Alternative to Meds performs this by using safe, non-invasive measures such as nutraceutically provoked biotransformation of fat-soluble toxins plus the addition of sauna, heavy metal chelation, ionic foot baths, colonics, and other ways to remove the build-up of neurotoxic materials in the body. Depression has been observed to manifest where toxicity levels are high.31 It is thought that these neurotoxins can significantly impair and interrupt normal CNS function, leading to depression or other stress. We are talking about heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and many other neurotoxic materials that our environments subject us all to over the course of our lives.

We have found that when this neurotoxic load is lessened, and a healthy gut is supported with clean food and targeted supplementation, the neurochemistry is allowed to rehabilitate naturally and toxicity-driven symptoms, such as depression, tiredness, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, etc., often significantly lessen and sometimes entirely lift.

Whether one lives in a polluted city, or out in a more rural setting, exposures to neurotoxins can be found just about anywhere. It is proven now that the removal of such toxic elements from the body can have a profoundly positive effect on both physical and mental health. 31

Talk Therapy as an Alternative to Lithium

At Alternative to Meds Center, we blend orthomolecular and other holistic therapy with various forms of talk therapy, which can act synergistically for the maximum benefits for our clients. While talk therapy may not be the only treatment necessary for satisfactory results, nonetheless it is a powerful tool for the lessening of many psychiatric or stress-related symptoms for which one may be seeking relief. This form of relief doesn’t come with side-effects that are associated, often, with medication-based treatment. 42,43,44,45,46,47

open dialog counselingAlternative to Meds is a center using social setting-based care, providing a safe space with some features similar to the Open Dialogue Programs that came out of Western Lapland in Finland in the 1980s. These programs focused greatly on family networks and other persons involved in the person’s well-being, with great success. Our program is client-based but does employ peer-support as well as personal and group therapies for treatments. Our aim is to use natural alternatives to medication, not just medication alone, to reduce or even eliminate psychiatric symptoms, especially where long-term drug management is not desired or has not proven adequately efficacious. We have similar goals in reductions in medication reliance and making gains in personal life functioning, and ability to get back to work or school, enjoy a higher quality of life, and other signposts of success.43

Counseling and Talk Therapy as Lithium Alternatives Include:

We have seen that talk therapy is not only popular but effective as a natural alternative to Lithium or other antipsychotic medication. Genres of talk therapy can include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT 44,45
  • Open Dialogue Therapy 43
  • EMDR (For psychosis with PTSD features) 46
  • Prolonged Exposure therapy 46

CBT and Exposure Therapy as Lithium Alternatives

antipsychotic natural alternativesPrograms at Alternative to Meds are customized for each client. We can draw from many forms of CBT and other therapy for psychotherapeutic treatments. Whether a client wants to work through personal issues, face fears in a safe space with the support of trained therapists, or learn more about techniques to balance mood swings and anxieties, this work is extremely beneficial and does not require medication to be successful.

We recommend finding out more about the potential gains to be had from Exposure therapy 47 which focuses on a gradual, tolerable approach to facing apprehensions and fears under the guidance and help of a therapist. Clients can bring new confidence back to regular life upon leaving the program, and this is highly sought after by many.

As mentioned previously, combining various forms of talk therapy with nutritional support as well as repairing neurochemistry naturally can significantly boost overall improvements as a result of their experience at Alternative to Meds Center.48

Find Out More About Natural Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

natural lithium alternatives sedona arizonaFor over 15 years we have been helping our clients address mood swings, depression, anxiety, and other unwanted conditions by safely transitioning away from toxic prescription drugs and over to an effective regimen of natural methods and strategies that result in mental health naturally. The focus of our programs is always to aim for finding and resolving root causes, not seeking better bandages to cover an unresolved mental health crisis. Please contact us at Alternative to Meds Center to get more information on the many methods that we use to rehabilitate healthy neurochemistry, support a healthy microbiome, increase energy, improve sleep, and much more.

We are a pristine, top-tier licensed inpatient facility and we are insurance-friendly. Our sole purpose is to help you find the exact Lithium alternatives and other tapering strategies that can help transition to a state of improved natural mental health without prescription drugs.


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31. Environmental Exposures and Depression: Biological Mechanisms and Epidemiological Evidence Annual Review of Public Health Vol. 40:239-259 (Volume publication date April 2019) First published as a Review in Advance on 2019 Jan 11 [cited 2021 Jan 2]

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34. Mittal VA, Vargas T, Osborne KJ, et al. Exercise Treatments for Psychosis: A Review. Curr Treat Options Psychiatry. 2017;4(2):152-166. doi:10.1007/s40501-017-0112-2. [cited 2021 Jan 2]

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This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Lithium Alternatives
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Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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