Brain Health,

#153: Low-Dose Lithium: a Hidden Panacea?

November 04, 2016

Dr. De-Maw Chuang, a Scientist Emeritus at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has spent a significant portion of his career looking at the effects of Lithium on the human brain.  Long known to have therapeutic applications — as well as the potential for overdose and toxicity — Lithium is another example of the rule “the dose makes the medicine.”

However, despite its long medical history, there remain many intriguing possibilities for Lithium’s use in medical applications — even those related to general well-being, rather than treatment of a pathology.

Little Atom, Big Questions

Among the big questions: Could Lithium be a partial preventative treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease? Studies have shown a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s in Bipolar Disorder patients who took Lithium, compared to those who used other treatments.  The question remains, though: Would this finding among Bipolar patients translate to humanity in general?

Unfortunately, Lithium’s status as an unpatentable element — literally one of the simplest compounds in the universe (atomic number: 3) — makes it a less-than-appealing study subject for big pharma.  Massive-scale human trials would be needed to make Lithium an accepted therapy for new conditions…but without something to patent (and profit from), there is no economic incentive to do so.

Lithium: The Promise and the Peril

Despite its proven usefulness in certain domains, Lithium has its downsides: Not all people respond positively to it, and some people are acutely allergic.  Giving Lithium to these people results in swelling tissues, a very bad rash, nausea, vomiting… Nothing fun.

However, at low doses, Lithium has been seen to provide neuroprotection, mood stabilization, and possibly even reduced risk of mortality for long-term users.

Join Dr. De-Maw Chuang to learn about the history, the knowns, and the lingering unknowns of this paradoxical and tantalizing element.

PS:  Jesse will be at the 2016 Biohacker Conference in Helsinki later this month!
Details coming soon…


  1. Phil says:

    Why no mention of Lithium orotate, which is how countless people are using low-dose lithium to self-treat mood disorders and mild bipolar disorder? Research is almost non-existent, but the anecdotal first-hand reports add to to a powerful case for its effects. Because it’s used in far lower doses than traditional Lithium Carbonate (presumably orotate is more transportable across blood/brain barrier) it has far fewer side effects. It’s sold over the counter and you can read thousands of reviews on Amazon.

  2. ben says:

    It’s amazing how such a simple salt, just a 3 proton atom, can have such a profound effect on personality and mood, something that we often think is a result of a complex interaction between our genetics and environment. A while back, Radiolab had a good episode where they follow a woman who’s personality suddenly switched and was restored using lithium.

    Perhaps due to all the batteries, Bolivia’s lithium supply is more valuable, but the idea of adding Lithium to the water supply is a good one. Many parts of the world, it seems to reduce the incidence of suicide, crime, etc. Since the government is already playing doctor by adding flouride, seems adding lithium isn’t far-fetched. The key is in the dosage as to avoid a wide spread increase in kidney issues!

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