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Lithium might be dangerous
01 December 2017
Preparations for youth
Lithium might be dangerous

Lithium-based drugs are considered among the most effective and safest of antidepressants.

Spring is almost here. Streams are bubbling, birds are chirping, sunbeams are sparkling... Nature is awakening, and our bodies are waking up with it, exhausted after a long winter hibernation and lack of vitamins. You have probably noticed that it is in spring that people often complain about bad moods.

The fatigue that has accumulated over winter sometimes prevents us from enjoying spring. Those of us who find it difficult to make a seasonal change in our usual rhythm are familiar with proven methods of dealing with spring blues. Lithium is considered one of the mildest and safest antidepressant substances, and doctors often prescribe supportive treatment based on it. Some people turn to it without medical advice. Yet, I want to warn you against it.

If you came across the positive effects of this drug, and even if a doctor prescribed it to you, be sure to take a genetic test before you begin treatment.

Sometimes doctors forget to mention the possible side effects of prescription drugs, so it’s better to look after your own wellbeing.

Lithium therapy is safe only after a gene analysis. White, soft and silvery, lithium is the lightest alkali metal. It has an affinity for oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, with which it interacts actively. Its name comes from the Greek word lithos, “stone”. It was discovered by A. Arfvedson (Sweden) in 1817.

Lithium carbonate is often used to treat depression and bipolar disorder. The drug has a rather simple composition: a lithium carbonate molecule is similar to a soda molecule, which is used to reduce acidity. The effect of the drug was established empirically many years ago. The usual dose is 1500 mg/day, and today’s most popular lithium-based drug is Plenur®.


Lithium therapy 

Several years ago, the drug was prescribed based on empirical evidence without a thorough understanding of its mechanics. Now scientists have proven that lithium has an antidepressant effect by inhibiting the neurotransmission of dopamine, blocking postsynaptic receptors and inhibiting glutamate receptors, an excitatory neurotransmitter. In addition, lithium is a catalyst for GABA activity - gamma aminobutyric acid. Lithium therapy remains a popular alternative to anti-depressants.


Old drug - new data 

Recent scientific publications describe previously unknown side effects of using lithium. Anyone who is going to use lithium needs to be informed of these side effects.

The authors of the article conducted a retrospective analysis of medical laboratory data on taking lithium —the analytical database totals more than 850,000 patients— and compared these data with the results of a control group in which patients have not taken lithium since 2003. According to research results, when taking lithium, the risk of developing hypothyroidism increases twofold (HR = 2.31). These side effects may occur during the first year of treatment.


Gene analysis will help 

With the help of genetic tests, modern diagnostic methods allow physicians to predict the effectiveness of lithium treatment and its possible side effects. Taking lithium without a prior genetic test is not advisable.


* Shine B et al. Long-term effects of lithium on renal, thyroid, and parathyroid function: a retrospective analysis of laboratory data. The Lancet, 22 May 2015. Open access.

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