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Drug-free Lithium Alternatives

This entry was posted in Antipsychotic and tagged on by .
Medically Reviewed Fact Checked

Last Updated on April 6, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

Drug-free 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

Does Your Diagnosis Require Lithium?

prescription lithium alternatives
Alternative to Meds focuses on antipsychotic alternatives and lithium withdrawal via natural means to regain mental wellness. In order to do this, our clinical staff seeks to exhaustively uncover and then resolve issues that may have led to prescription medication. Our 15 years of experience, as shown in our evidence-based performance report, shows a remarkable success rate in resolving these often ruinous conditions while at the same time reducing or eliminating prescription drug use. Very often, and upon a deeper investigation, there are natural solutions for mental conditions that led to medicating in the first place. Lithium discontinuation may be an option to consider, under medical guidance.
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Lithium Carbonate vs Lithium Orotate

Lithium alternatives at Alternative to Meds Center mean drug-free lithium alternatives that may offer some persons 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 orotate (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, under brand names such as Lithobid® or Eskalith®.

Lithium carbonate carries with it a potentially significant burden of adverse 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

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 at a slightly higher dose, lithium carbonate can become dangerous.7,56 For this reason, the carbonate form is considered problematic because it can cause harsh and high-risk adverse 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 carbonate because the knife on this one cuts both ways.13,14,17

Lithium Orotate as a Drug-free Lithium Carbonate Alternative

In contrast, lithium orotate, sometimes called “nutritional lithium” is a combination of earth-sourced lithium and orotate, a compound that is naturally found in the body (orotic acid). Lithium orotate is available over the counter as a nutraceutical. It is listed as an essential trace element according to the National Research Council on Human Health in its literature on essential nutrients and human health.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 reactions as lithium carbonate.11 While lithium orotate may not be as prone to causing harsh adverse 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.19-21

Studies have suggested that low-level lithium doses from normative environmental sources may be associated with a reduction in male suicide rates and episodes of violence. A study out of Japan and published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that males (but not females) showed a significant inverse ratio between natural lithium in drinking water and suicide rates.22 While more research is needed, an observation has been made of an increased frequency of suicide attempts, homicides, and other acts of violence in residents within areas where there are low concentrations of Li in water resources (0–12μg/L).23 One of the attributed mechanisms suggested is that lithium may be required for the delivery and absorption of folate and vitamin B12, both of which are associated with regulating neuromodulation and other cellular biotransformations in the central nervous system. Thus, it is thought that reduced intake of Li could potentially inhibit the action of these neurochemical activities.24

An Important Note on Lithium Discontinuation


Natural Alternatives to Prescription Lithium

Drug-free Lithium alternatives can take a very practical approach, such as cleaning up the microbiome. Mood regulation may be assisted by limiting or eliminating sugars, carbs, and caffeine. Other recommendations include regular exercise, as well as talk therapies with various therapeutic focuses. Other supplements or herbal remedies are available that are effective for depression, bipolar presentations, and mood disturbances. All of these types of treatments may 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.

Drug-free Lithium Alternatives can Include:
  • holistic alternatives to prescription lithiumNutritional lithium orotate 11,15,16,35
  • Organic where possible, gluten-free diet 25
  • Minimize MSG and foods that contain glutamate 26
  • Eat 4-6 times per day small meals, reduce refined carbs, and take adequate protein to prevent reactive hypoglycemia and to maintain blood sugar levels 27,28
  • Eliminate caffeine, and other stimulants 29
  • Cannabis is NOT recommended as an alternative to lithium 57
  • Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin production 30
  • Reduce toxic body burden and clean up the diet, the home, the workplace, personal hygiene products, and other possible sources of neurotoxic poisons 31,32
  • Consult naturopathic help to isolate nutritional deficiencies 3,33
  • Exercise, especially cardio, yoga, or walking. Voluntary exercise improves neurogenesis.34,59
  • Taurine 16
  • Orthomolecular support in the way of high dose niacin and vitamin C 35,54
  • Omega-3 fatty acids and eicosapentaenoic acid 4,16,36,37
  • GABA supplementation 38
  • Gut microbiome support 39-41

Gut Microbiome Health and Mental Health

gut microbiome brain transmittersSome exciting research has given us a very clear understanding of the connections between a healthy (or unhealthy) gut microbiome and our mental states.51 A prescription of lithium will not fix a dysregulated microbiome in the gut. Therefore, even with successful lithium discontinuation one would still be advised to at the same time make dietary and other changes to correct a dysfunctional gut microbiome for improvements in one’s mental health. 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.49-51

And other studies show that the gut microbiome produces 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. Addressing the diet can address a much broader set of factors than a quick script written for a drug such as lithium, which will not bring the same benefits as a diet and gut health overhaul.

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 — be sure to include Hoffer’s writings in your research, to gain a fundamental understanding of many aspects of mental health that were previously overlooked in many treatment settings. As part of considering lithium alternative treatments, we would highly recommend reviewing his work on niacin and high-dose vitamin C in the successful treatment of schizophrenia, as just one example.35,53,54 

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

sauna detox lithiumOne 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 nutraceutical-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. Toxic substances tend to accumulate in fatty tissues and may be at least to some degree, at the root of some mental health issues. In these cases, lithium will not provide an adequate solution.

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. Accompanying these types of therapies would be a wise choice for anyone, but especially anyone opting for a reduction of dosage.

Whether one lives in a polluted city, or out in a more rural setting, exposure 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. 

Why Cannabis is NOT Recommended as a Lithium Alternative

A 2020 massive review of medical literature on the subject, showed a significant impact of cannabis use and developing or relapsing psychotic symptoms compared to non-users. When discussing cannabis one must bear in mind that different strains may contain a highly variable range of the psychoactive component — THC — and that the higher the THC content, the more likely it will have negative consequences on mental health. THC has been shown to overtake the “supreme joy” receptors that are located all over the body, and despite a popularized opinion that THC is “organic” or “healthy”, these receptors were not designed for THC to occupy. In fact, regular marijuana use especially over time has been shown to lower IQ and memory and is associated with a doubled rate of depression in users compared to non-marijuana users. Other mental health burdens associated with marijuana use include irritability, suicidality, worsened PTSD symptoms, and other adverse effects. These clinical studies confirm that marijuana or other high-THC products are not viable alternatives to Lithium. There are many superior drug-free alternatives to lithium to consider.57,58

Talk Therapy as a Drug-free 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 maximum benefits for our clients as an effective lithium alternative treatment. 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 the adverse reactions that are often associated with medication-based treatment. 42-47

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 reducing reliance on medication by utilizing drug-free lithium alternatives, and making gains in personal life functioning, and the ability to get back to work or school, enjoy a higher quality of life, and other signposts of success.43

We have seen that talk therapy is not only popular but effective as a natural alternative to lithium carbonate or other antipsychotic medications.

Counseling and Talk Therapy as Drug-free Lithium Alternatives 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

exposure therapy as lithium alternativePrograms 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 are effective lithium alternatives that can significantly boost overall improvements and can be used to support Lithium titration. This is the expected outcome as a result of clients’ experiencing true recovery at Alternative to Meds Center.48

Find Out More About Natural Alternatives to Prescription Drugs

holistic mental health treatment 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 to seek 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 gut 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 Lithium tapering strategies that can help transition to a state of improved natural mental health without prescription drugs.

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Originally Published Sep 21, 2020 by Diane Ridaeus

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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Drug-free Lithium Alternatives
Medical Disclaimer:
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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Medication Withdrawal Success Stories

Can you imagine being free from medications, addictive drugs, and alcohol? This is our goal and we are proving it is possible every day!

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