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Just Another Teachin’ Tuesday: Lithium – “But it’s in batteries!?!?”

“How in the heck can something in a battery help stabilize my mood?” Good question, but for some 50 years lithium has been an efficacious treatment for mania and depression. Okay – what is it? And why does it work?

Well, lithium is an extremely light and soft silver-white metal that’s on the periodic table of elements. It’s symbol is Li, and its atomic number is 3. By the way, it’s highly reactive and flammable; and that’s why it appears naturally in compounds.

Fascinatingly enough, lithium serves no biological purpose of any significance in humans. But the lithium ion Li+ in the form of the lithium salts – lithium carbonate,  lithium citrate, and lithium orotate – do a heck of a number on depression and mania.

Hence, lithium – most often lithium carbonate – is used very frequently in the treatment of bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Of course, the potential for very serious side effects has to be monitored.

Now, how and why lithium works in the treatment of mood disorders is an interesting subject. It’s been traditionally believed the Li+ ion elevates levels of serotonin in the brain, as well as a serotonin metabolite. Of course, we know of serotonin’s positive impact on mood.

But the ion also reduces the activity of the catecholamines – the fight/flight neurotransmitters and hormones, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine – which are involved in the generation of mania.

There’s a recent bit of very interesting research which was conducted at the National Institute of Aging and the University of Colorado, Denver. It suggests lithium reduces brain inflammation by adjusting the metabolism of  the omega-3-fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). And it makes perfect sense that brain inflammation interferes with the brain’s ability to fight infection and injury.

By the way, fish oil, which contains DHA, is being touted as an adjunct in the treatment of assorted emotional and mental health disorders.

Well, brain inflammation is a major consideration because excess or unwanted presentations of it can damage brain cells. And that can contribute to, among other issues, emotional and mental health situations – like depression and mania.

In addition to this brain inflammation biz, the research noted the impact of lithium on levels of a metabolite of DHA in response to brain inflammation. It seems this metabolite is a precursor to the anti-inflammatory compounds known as the docosanoids. Aspirin achieves it’s anti-inflammatory efficacy by impacting the docosanoids.

So it seems lithium packs a powerful one-two wallop by both fighting brain inflammation, as well as enhancing chemicals that do the very same thing.

What think you chipur readers – especially those who are using lithium? Why not comment?