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Lithium In Water: May Reduce Suicide


Tuesday, May 5th, 2009 Lithium In Water: May Reduce Suicide

Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent of the Telegraph and the BBC (01 05 09) are both reporting on the benefits of adding lithium to drinking water to help prevent suicide in the general population, according to a recent Japenese study.

Researchers at Oita University in Japan measured natural lithium levels in tap water in 18 communities in the surrounding region of southern Japan, which has a population of more than one million.

The suicide rate was significantly lower in those areas with the highest levels of the element, writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers said: “Our study suggests that very low levels of lithium in drinking water can lower the risk of suicide. Very low levels may possess an anti-suicidal effect.”

It is understood that high doses of lithium are already used to treat serious mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.

Levels ranged from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers speculated that while these levels were low, there may be a cumulative protective effect on the brain from years of drinking this tap water.

However, so far the potential benefit of using low levels of lithium to reduce the risk of suicide has not been studied closely.

Furthermore, At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

At least one previous study has suggested an association between lithium in tap water and suicide. That research on data collected from the 1980s also found a significantly lower rate of suicide in areas with relatively high lithium levels.

Significantly, the Japanese researchers called for further research in other countries but they stopped short of any suggestion that lithium be added to drinking water.

The discussion around adding fluoride to water to protect dental health has proved controversial - criticised by some as mass involuntary medication.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Allan Young of Vancouver’s Institute for Mental Health said the study was “intriguing”.

In addition he states, “A logical first step would be for the Medical Research Council to convene an expert working party to examine the available evidence and suggest further research.

“Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable.”

ophie Corlett, external relations director at mental health charity Mind said the research “certainly merits more investigation.

“We already know that lithium can act as a powerful mood stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder, and treating people with lithium is also associated with lower suicide rates.

“However, lithium also has significant and an unpleasant side effects in higher doses, and can be toxic. Any suggestion that it should be added, even in tiny amounts, to drinking water should be treated with caution and researched very thoroughly.”

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