A NEWLY RECOGNIZED NUTRIENT - AND A NEW AWARENESS
Here’s what we know: in ultra high doses (e.g. 170-340 mg per day) – lithium acts as a drug with a host of unwanted effects. Any essential mineral taken at extremely high amounts will do the same or worse. You'd get even nastier immediate effects (e.g. GI irritation, nausea, vomiting) from either zinc or copper – both essential nutrients, at comparable, relative doses – whereas in low doses (e.g. 5-20 mg per day; used for many years now), lithium acts a nutrient.
This is our new awareness, which is only new in the sense that most health professionals (and the general public) have yet to be exposed to this truth. Just as small amounts of copper, chromium, boron, manganese, molybdenum, iron, zinc, iodine, and selenium protect you from disease and are essential for good health – small amounts of lithium are also absolutely essential and support vital processes in the body and brain.
We’ve known for years that animals need lithium for reproductive health, and the maintenance of general health and well-being. According to Emeritus Professor, Dr. Gerhard N. Schrauzer – internationally recognized expert in trace mineral research in his 2002 paper titled "Lithium: occurrence, dietary intakes, nutritional essentiality", he states, “In studies conducted from the 1970s to the 1990s, rats and goats maintained on low-lithium rations were shown to exhibit higher mortalities as well as reproductive and behavioral abnormalities.”
Higher mortalities? Reproductive and behavioral abnormalities?
Humans and animals need the same minerals, so it doesn't seem a stretch that we might exhibit similar problems under conditions of inadequate intake.
According to Schrauzer, “Lithium is found in variable amounts in foods; primary food sources are grains and vegetables; in some areas, the drinking water also provides significant amounts of the element. The biochemical mechanisms of action of lithium appear to be multifactorial…with the functions of several enzymes, hormones and vitamins, as well as with growth and transforming factors.”
With respect to two other critically important brain nutrients, lithium (Li) has been shown to enhance folate and B12 transport into cells. The transport of these factors is inhibited in lithium deficiency and can be restored by lithium supplementation. In his 2002 review, Schrauzer concluded,
“Since vitamin B12 and folate also affect mood-associated parameters, the stimulation of the transport of these vitamins into brain cells by Li may be cited as yet another mechanism of the antidepressive, mood-elevating and antiaggressive actions of Li at nutritional dosage levels.”
Schrauzer estimated the minimum daily requirement of lithium at 1 mg per day (1,000 mcg), while the average intake in the United States has been estimated to be approximately 0.6 − 3.1 mg per day. Though many experts would agree that this is a rather conservative estimate with the prevalence of lithium depleting agents in our food supply such as fluoride, caffeine, and sodium, along with individual variations that often necessitate larger intakes for optimal health.
MAGNESIUM, ZINC, AND LITHIUM
Knowing that an excess of glutamate in the brain (with NMDA receptor over-activation) can drive depression, anxiety, and behavioral and sleep disorders – and is one of the key features of autism – one would presume that nutrients (e.g. magnesium, zinc, lithium) that oppose or inhibit this over-activation would be particularly beneficial. This is exactly what is found.
In a recent webinar titled, “The Top 5 Minerals for Cognition, Memory and Mood” (February 12, 2015), James Greenblatt MD states, “Clinical research supports a crucial link between mineral status and mental health. Zinc, magnesium, and trace minerals such as lithium play indispensable roles in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the brain. These elements regulate emotions, thoughts, mood, sleep, and behavior by modulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA and glutamate.”
He refers to lithium as a “naturally occurring, nootropic mineral”, which is any food, substance, or nutrient that increases mental competence (e.g. intelligence, memory, and learning). In short, according to Dr. Greenblatt, “low-dose lithium works as a multifaceted tool in integrative health, offering beneficial effects on mood and behavior, as well as memory and cognition.”
In addition to its mood elevating and cognitive enhancing effects, recent evidence has also shown that small doses of lithium have beneficial effects on mitochondrial function and turnover – conferring anti-aging and longevity promoting effects. It’s also known that populations with higher levels of naturally occurring lithium in their drinking water have decreased rates of death due to suicide.
FLUORIDE DEPLETES LITHIUM
Fluoride, a known neurotoxin (and poison) binds to lithium in our food and water decreasing its bioavailability to plants, animals, and humans. In the most basic terms there’s a “see-saw” relationship between these two minerals. In elevated amounts, fluoride lowers lithium levels in the body. Why is this important? It’s important because lithium has neuroprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and regulatory functions in the body (e.g. vitamin B12 and folate utilization, NMDA receptor modulation).
Considering that fluoride has NO known role in human health and nutrition (that’s right, none!) – any excess of fluoride can be seen as detrimental due to its induction of oxidative stress (free-radical generation) and its lithium depleting ability.
Adding fluoride to our drinking water, bottled water, dental products, and food grown with fluoridated water all contribute to a large excess of fluoride in our food and water – with a number of negative effects (e.g. decreased IQ, learning problems, thyroid dysfunction, and developmental disorders).
HARVARD META-ANALYSIS CONFIRMS FLUORIDE LOWERS IQ
Fluoride has well described neurotoxic effects even in small amounts (e.g. 1 ppm). A recently published Harvard University meta-analysis funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that children who live in areas with highly fluoridated water have "significantly lower" IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas.
49 human studies have found that elevated fluoride exposure is associated with reduced IQ, and 34 animal studies have found that fluoride impairs memory and learning in animals. A total of 83 human and animal studies have found a strong association between fluoride exposure and impaired brain function.
SO LET’S RECAP
Lithium increases stem cell production, promotes healing processes, and protects the brain and nervous system, while serving vital functions in the body. Fluoride is neurotoxic and depletes lithium. It should be obvious. We need less fluoride, and more of the latter. And, based on the data, it’s very possible, that some of fluoride’s neurotoxic effects (e.g. free-radical generation, oxidative stress) could simply be due to its ability to bind and deplete lithium.
We know that an excess of zinc can promote copper depletion (and Cu deficiency), and that calcium can promote magnesium depletion (and Mg deficiency) – so this “see-saw” relationship of minerals is very well known in the scientific community. Fluoride and lithium are really no different – EXCEPT fluoride is a poison, and serves NO vital functions in the body.
SO HOW MUCH LITHIUM DO WE NEED?
The nutritional dose range for lithium (in the form of orotate or aspartate) used by health professionals is commonly between 5-20 mg per day. Make sure to read the label carefully because some manufacturers don’t list the “elemental lithium” on the front of the bottle, but rather the total mass of the lithium complex (e.g. lithium orotate). For example, some bottles list 120 mg of Lithium Orotate, and if you read the back of the bottle (small print), you’ll see that 120 mg of Lithium (orotate) contains 4.6 mg of elemental lithium per tablet or capsule.
Lithium(+) + Orotate(−) = Lithium Orotate
positive negative mineral
ion ion complex
So, you’re NOT taking 120 mg of lithium – rather the entire “lithium orotate complex” is 120 mg.
This “mineral complex” is made of the following: 3.8% elemental lithium by weight and 96.2% orotate by weight, which equals 4.6 mg of elemental lithium + 115.4 mg of orotate.
The orotate ion is the “delivery system” or “vehicle” for carrying the lithium from your gut intact to every cell in your body, where it’s then released (dissociates) once inside the cell. It’s a very stable chelate, and the best form of nutritional lithium on the market..
In the 1950s, dentists believed that fluoride was a “nutrient.” A nutrient is a vitamin or mineral that is necessary for good health. Dentists believed that fluoride ingestion during childhood was necessary for strong, healthy teeth. It is now known, however, that fluoride is NOT a nutrient. As acknowledged by the CDC, the fluoride content of a tooth has little bearing on whether or not the tooth will develop a cavity.
According to the CDC:
“The prevalence of dental caries in a population is not inversely related to the concentration of fluoride in enamel, and a higher concentration of enamel fluoride is not necessarily more efficacious in preventing dental caries.”
On the other hand, lithium has a host of well-documented beneficial effects in the body. If you’re interested in learning more about the nutritional benefits of lithium, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the work of Jonathan Wright MD, Emily Deans MD, Ana Fels MD, James Howenstine MD, Hans Nieper MD and my latest article, Lithium as a Nutrient. Just another nutrient (in often short supply) to add to your list, and this is a good one.