Lithium production of human body
September 26, 2012 3:00 PM   Subscribe

How is lithium produced by the body? Is it broken from larger molecules (ionized) or supplied by the food intake in the basic element form? I know that lower than some certain concentration level in blood *may* be the result of bipolar disorder and physicians try to cure that by administering lithium tablets to patients. What I do not know is how lithium is naturally produced and maintained by the body. Wikipedia article on lithium is of little help, maybe the subject needs deeper digging. Thanks!
posted by raphael19 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might want to read the prize winning essay in the LessWrong quantified supplement contest.


The guy who wrote it is a medical student (or he might be a resident by now) and the most important information in it which was new to me was on lithium supplementation. He says taking a couple milligrams of lithium supplement daily might be a really good idea.
posted by bukvich at 3:13 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Your body gets lithium directly from your diet. Here's an abstract from pubmed talking about dietary sources of lithium and even provides a tentative recommended daily allowance. Lithium: Occurence, Dietary intakes, Nutritional Essentiality it's a good start for more research.
posted by wilky at 3:18 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Supplementing with over-the-counter lithium and/or trying to get more dietary lithium are not substitutes for getting diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist if you think you might have a bipolar disorder. Just in case.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:24 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Lithium is an element, so it isn't produced by the body - it's absorbed from the environment. Here is a review I found that might be helpful. The key points: plants (grains and other vegetables) and sometimes drinking water appear to be the major dietary sources of lithium, and lithium is eliminated by the kidney (as opposed to the liver, the other major place where things get detoxified), so kidney problems could lead to lower levels of lithium than normal.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: Hah, jinx, wilky.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:25 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: I am not a doctor or pharmacologist or biologist, but, answering your questions:
  1. Lithium is not produced by the body
  2. It is a reactive metal, so it's eaten in ionic form.
  3. Not a question, but
    • Bipolar disorder would not lower blood lithium. There may be some small exacerbation of bipolar disorder if blood lithium levels are too low.
    • Administration of lithium as treatment for bipolar is at about 1000 times the normal dietary intake (c. 1000mg a day as opposed to 1mg/day), and 500 times the safe maximum dietary intake of 2mg a day (i.e. what's known to be fine without monitoring blood levels of lithium, kidney function, etc). It's acting as a drug which interferes with nerve impulse transmission at the nerve synapse.
  4. Like all ions, it's excreted by the kidneys, and comes from the diet.
I'm not clear why you asked the question. If it's because you want to try using it to treat your mood, like everyone else, I'd say: No, that's extremely dangerous. If you think you're bipolar, more than most other mental illness, you need to be under the care of a psychiatrist, and lithium is a dangerous drug with a narrow therapeutic index. Don't experiment with it.
posted by ambrosen at 4:52 PM on September 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: ambrosen is absolutely correct. Especially the part about therapeutic index. Accidentally overdosing will blow out your kidneys.

To clarify: bipolar wouldn't cause a low level of lithium, it would be the other way around- low lithium would cause/exacerbate bipolar. If that theory is correct.
posted by gjc at 6:09 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: To add to [b]ambrosen[/b]'s information, lithium levels can be measured in the blood. The target range for treating bipolar disorder is usually expected to be 0.4 - 1.0 mmol/L (depending on effectiveness & side effects). A level of 1.5 mmol/L or higher is potentially toxic. The method in my lab can only detect levels of 0.1 mmol/L or higher and I have never seen anyone not on prescribed lithium who had a detectable level (i.e. 0.1 mmol/L) in their blood. As [b]ambrosen[/b] says, lithium treatment is not merely replacing a deficiency, it is actively administering lithium in far higher quantities than naturally present.
posted by *becca* at 6:52 PM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: I am OK and do not have any intention of experimenting with Li quantities. Thanks for the concern.

The relation between the normal level of lithium in blood and bipolar disorder is rather vague and I wanted to know more. It is like the chicken-egg problem. Which one breeds the other, I was curious about that.
posted by raphael19 at 6:53 PM on September 26, 2012

Best answer: it would be the other way around- low lithium would cause/exacerbate bipolar.

I could be wrong, but I don't think that's quite right. Lithium is a drug that can treat/ameliorate bipolar disorders, but those disorders aren't the result of a lithium deficiency, any more than a headache is the result of an aspirin deficiency. There is such a thing as lithium deficiency, at least in lab animals, but the amount of lithium at which that happens is much, much lower than the amount used therapeutically— treating biploar disorder isn't simply correcting a deficiency.

OTOH, there's the theory that a true deficiency in the womb/in childhood can lead to disorders that persist even if you later get enough lithium, but can be treated by huge (i.e., psychiatrist-level) amounts of lithium— AIUI the jury's still out on that.
posted by hattifattener at 8:39 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A free PubMed review [neuropharmacology] on some of the neuro-cellular mechanisms that administered Li therapy might be modulating and a review of some clinical studies.

fwiw, iirc, lithium was prescribed to treat bipolar long long long before any potential mechanism was discovered. The story isn't complete, as in, it's not completely known exactly why Li therapy works, and why it works for some people but not others.
posted by porpoise at 8:52 PM on September 26, 2012

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