A Cornell medical school professor argued that lithium could be in our drinking water.
Anna Fels, psychiatrist and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that lithium, an antimanic drug that decreases abnormal brain activity, can be found in varying levels in the water supply and “has been largely ignored for over half a century.”
Lithium was also the key ingredient in the original 7-Up.
The drug “appears to have important medical implications” in water, Fels continued in her article “Should We All Take a Bit of Lithium?”
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“Lithium is a naturally occurring element, not a molecule like most medications, and it is present in the United States, depending on the geographic area, at concentrations that can range widely, from undetectable to around .170 milligrams per liter,” Fels wrote. “This amount is less than a thousandth of the minimum daily dose given for bipolar disorders and for depression that doesn’t respond to antidepressants. Although it seems strange that the microscopic amounts of lithium found in groundwater could have any substantial medical impact, the more scientists look for such effects, the more they seem to discover. Evidence is slowly accumulating that relatively tiny doses of lithium can have beneficial effects. They appear to decrease suicide rates significantly and may even promote brain health and improve mood.”
According to Fels, higher levels of lithium in drinking water have beneficial results, like lower suicide rates and homicide rates. But she wrote that these studies have received little attention.
“When the data from [a] Japanese study was reanalyzed in a second publication, the authors concluded that those people with higher levels of lithium in their water supply had lower levels of ‘all-cause mortality.’ Why have these findings been so little discussed in the medical, psychiatric and public health communities?” she asked.
As a psychiatrist, Fels found the drug to be a “hard sell” to patients and since it’s fairly cheap and abundant, there has been little push because pharmaceuticals wouldn’t get anything from it.
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“Research on a simple element like lithium that has been around as a medication for over half a century and as a drink for millenniums may not seem like a high priority, but it should be,” Fels wrote.