Lithium is an element, a mineral. We need trace amounts of minerals like zinc (Zn) or iron (Fe) or iodine (I) to survive. Studies are revealing we probably need a trace amount of lithium too.
Here’s lithium (Li) in the Periodic Table. It’s in the very first column, second box down, right above sodium (Na) and potassium (K).
I picked that image from Wikipedia, which says:
Nutritional studies in mammals have indicated [lithium’s] importance to health, leading to a suggestion that it be classed as an essential trace element.
I came across the following review this morning. Lithium is still receiving support in the scientific community for its effect on (especially, but not limited to) the nervous system:
Unified Theory Of Alzheimer’s Disease (UTAD): Implications For Prevention And Curative Therapy, Journal of Molecular Psychiatry, 2016
Lithium is not yet generally recognized as a trace element but several lines of evidence make it a strong candidate . For instance, long-term low-dose exposure to lithium exerts anti-aging capabilities and unambiguously decreases mortality in animal models . In humans, epidemiological studies indicate an inverse correlation between lithium concentration in drinking water and mood, depression and suicide rates , amongst other psychiatric conditions . In a study that compared elderly bipolar patients (who exhibit a higher risk for dementia) who had received chronic lithium treatment, with bipolar patients who had not received lithium, it was shown that the prevalence of the treated group was equivalent to the general, age-comparable population, whereas the non-lithium-treated patients had an incidence of dementia that was six times greater, i.e. 5 % vs. 33 %, respectively . In another study it was shown that lithium treatment resulted in an increase in volumes of the hippocampi in both hemispheres compared to an unmedicated group, an effect that was apparent even after a brief treatment period of about 4 weeks on average .
Importantly, intake of lithium not only in standard therapeutic but also in trace doses reduces the risk for dementia, suicide, and other behavioural outcomes, suggesting an pharmacological interference with key regulators of these pathological processes . So, lithium naturally regulates critical cell signalling pathways and a lack of lithium in the diet can therefore cause increased disease risk.
Intake of drinking water with comparable low lithium concentrations were found to be inversely correlated with all-cause mortality in a large epidemiological study in Japan .
They say that some spring waters contain about 1 mg/liter:
Traces of lithium can be ingested in some geographic areas by drinking local tap water or otherwise by consuming commercially available, mineral-rich spring waters, containing suitable concentrations of around 1 mg lithium per litre. Hence microdose lithium intake by means of one or two glasses of such water a day is not only of potential therapeutic value (see below) but also a safe preventive measure, by means of simply reducing an intake-deficit of an important novel trace element.
That 1mg/liter is a lot. I haven’t seen any water that contains that much. Have you? I first wrote about lithium in 2015: An RDA For Lithium? On The Order Of 1 mg/day?. I found about a tenth of a liter in some bottled waters, those that listed an amount:
University di Pavia, Italy. Chemical Analysis of San Pelligrino, 15 April 2014
Lithium: 0.12 mg (possibly up to 0.45 mg/liter)
Calcium: 178 mg/liter
Magnesium: 53.8 mg/liter
Lithium: 0.13 mg/liter
Calcium: 348 mg/liter
Magnesium: 108 mg/liter
Our food contains lithium in trace amounts, as long as the soil the food is grown in does. But no one is checking right now.