More about Lithium

In his methodical and enthusiastic review of Lithium, Dr. Wise Young, paints a rosy picture of this misunderstood and feared element.  As I wrote in a previous post, Lithium appears to be more beneficial than we realize.

His article is very heady and difficult to read:  it is a recitation of hundreds of research studies on lithium–yet, what emerges is a complex and compelling picture, too.

Lithium appears to be broadly protective and beneficial for the mammalian brain.   Vague concepts like stress and toxins and injury are easy to relate to–no one wants that–and anything  that can protect us or repair is us is very welcome.  Lithium can do that for us. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about lithium after reading Dr. Young’s article.  I was skeptical that this was his diatribe or polemic, and indeed, it may be more one-sided than meets the eye, but I have to admit, it is compelling.

He cites ideas I have heard elsewhere: here he is providing copious detail and stating his case. Lithium is great.  I just think he puts is together so well it’s rather convincing.  I will summarize:  lithium boosts immune function, modulates autoimmunity, induces nerve growth and differentiation, repairs and prevents nerve cell damage, inhibits inflammation, prevents cell death from toxins, increases grey matter in the memory and emotional control areas of the brain, may prevent Alzheimers’, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, and has a very respected (“best in show”) track record for manic depressive illness (bipolar disorder) over the past 100 years.

Dr. Young adds a section on toxicity.  He is right to do so.  We all fear permanent brain damage, and lithium can do this if signs of lithium intoxication are ignored for long periods of time.  He suggests levels over 2 nmol/L are of concern, and notes that therapeutic levels lay between 0.5-0.75 nmol/L for most benefits, although levels above 0.6 nmol/L are needed for all the effects–like stimulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

In sum, Dr. Wise Young argues (or at least implies) that lithium is the best psychiatric drug for bipolar disorder and says it is less toxic than antidepressants and antipsychotics–when used properly and monitored closely.    It may help protect us from neurodegeneration and promote neuroplasticity.  He doesn’t hold back: all said, he concludes “lithium has an astonishing range of activity on cells” and is protective against damage.

Well, after reading that article, it’s hard not to get rah-rah about lithium: I mean, don’t we all need a little protection.

Lithium Effects on Brain and Blood (2009), Young, MD, PhD

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