An Integrative and Functional Medicine approach to Lithium and your mental health.
Lithium deficiency is becoming more and more common. In fact, so far, when I suspect that a patient may need supplementation with lithium and run a blood test on their levels, I have not had a single patient come back with normal levels. In fact most have them have come back with “non detectable levels”, which essentially means NON. Maybe I should just start testing everyone just in case. I don't know yet. Anyway, that is a discussion for another time.
So what is lithium? Lithium is actually a metal that our bodies need in order to perform some critical functions. Most notably when it comes to mental health. For those that have heard of lithium or know someone on it they generally think of either batteries or someone that has been diagnosed with bipolar, but they aren't the only ones that can benefit from proper lithium supplementation. Let me be clear this is NOT something everyone should take. Lithium is only something you should take if you are being monitored by a trained physician regularly. High levels of lithium can be toxic.
Patients in my practice that I will test for lithium levels include anyone that has any degree of “mental issues”. This can be as small and simple as something from slight anxiety to depression, ocd, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, adrenal fatigue, or any other condition that might have a “mental’ aspect to it. Which when you think about it can actually be a lot of thinks. There is the whole ming body connection after all.
A few of the ways that lithium is thought to work is by decreasing norepinephrine release, which is the excitatory or adrenalin hormone, and by increasing release of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy, relaxed, and self-confident. It also plays an important role in our sleep, sex drive, and digestive health. This is along the lines of how SSRI’s (slective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) work. They don't make more serotonin they just make it “hang out” for a longer period, which by the way, can have multiple detrimental long term side effects, but that is for another video.
It also reduces excitatory dopamine and glutamate while at the same time increasing levels of inhibitory GABA, which gives us the calm relaxed feeling.
Another benefit of lithium is that is can help with your circadian rhythm, or how you sleep. By increasing serotonin that we mentioned earlier, serotonin is converted to melatonin at night, which triggers our sleep cycle. Viola = sleep.
There are some exciting studies that are being done regarding lithiums use in Alzheimers and other neurodegeneration diseases. So keep tuned in.
Generally we can and should try to get most of our lithium from our foods, but sometimes it just doesn't or cant happen, again that is for another video/blog. Grains and veggies are the best sources. We also get some from water and animal protein. Dairy products, sugarcane, seaweed, potatoes, lemons, eggs and Natural mineral water is also said to have a good source of lithium.
So what about lithium supplements? Do I use them in my practice? Absolutely. Should everyone take lithium supplements? Definitely not! In fact lithium can be toxic and many patients note that when they first start on lithium supplements it might make them feel a little loopy at first. We often have to start with really low doses and work our way up. This is the type of supplement that you have to be put on gradually and your levels need to be monitored. Too much of a good thing here can be really bad!
So until next time,
Be happy, be healthy.
For those that are looking for a good quality Lithium orotate, I highly recommend and routinely use this one in my private practice. Lithium Orotate.
I will stress again, it’s always best to get your levels tested first.
Generally this is a specialty test and can only be done with the recommendation from a physician.
You might want to try our test page to see if its available or give us a call to set up a virtual visit.