• How Does Lithium Affect Drinking Water?

Water/Wastewater

How Does Lithium Affect Drinking Water?

Aug 10 2020

Those who drink water with high (but naturally occurring) concentrations of lithium may experience mental health benefits, according to a recent report from King’s College London. By collating data across many studies from thousands of cities across a number of different countries, the authors found a demonstrable link between naturally occurring levels of lithium and reduced rates of suicide among the local populace.

Lithium is regularly prescribed to treat manic depression, reduce the occurrence of suicidal thoughts and help to stabilise moods. While the concentrations in the water supplies studied in this report are far lower than what might be prescribed by a doctor, the accumulative effects of prolonged exposure could produce beneficial results over an extended period.

The “Magic Ion”

Sometimes labelled the “Magic Ion”, lithium is well known for its anti-aggressive and mood stabilising properties. As a naturally occurring element, it’s found in certain vegetables, grains and spices. It’s also detectable in trace amounts in almost all rock types. After rainfall, it is washed into the soil and from there, can infiltrate water supplies, including those used for drinking.

Its curative properties have been known to man for centuries. Indeed, Lithia Springs in Georgia, USA has become something of a point of pilgrimage for those looking to take advantage of the restorative powers of the lithium-enriched waters. Upon its introduction into the commercial market in 1929, popular American soft drink 7-Up even contained the substance.

Illuminating studies

The recent collative report was undertaken by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London in collaboration with Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS). By analysing the results of all prior studies on the topic, collected from 1,286 different locales in Austria, Lithuania, Greece, Great Britain, Italy, the USA and Japan, the authors were able to prove strong correlations between lithium concentrations and reduced suicide rates.

The studies employed high performance measurement technology to ascertain lithium levels, then cross-referenced these against suicide rates among the populace exposed to them. They found that those areas which enjoyed relatively high concentrations of the substance reflected a drop-off in the number of people taking their own lives.

A major killer

Mental health in general and suicide in particular have become increasingly hot potatoes over recent decades. Claiming the lives of 800,000 people worldwide each year, suicide is the biggest killer among those in the 15- to 24-year-old age bracket. With coronavirus and the attendant quarantine measures putting an even greater strain on mental health, the news that lithium-enriched water could help to boost it is welcome.

“Next steps might include testing this hypothesis by randomised community trials of lithium supplementation of the water supply, particularly in communities (or settings) with demonstrated high prevalence of mental health conditions, violent criminal behaviour, chronic substance abuse and risk of suicide,” explained Professor Anjum Memon, lead author on the study. “This may provide further evidence to support the hypothesis that lithium could be used at the community level to reduce or combat the risk of these conditions.”


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