Lithium is a naturally occurring organic element. Most of us have come across it in the study of chemistry where we were taught that Lithium is highly reactive but least reactive among the alkali metals.
In the study of Chemistry, were also told that a compound of lithium called lithium carbonate was used for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, my Chemistry teacher never went beyond that.
However, history has it that since the 1940s, the element lithium was discovered to have effects on mood problems and has ever since been the chief medication for bipolar disorder. Quite interesting, right?
Wait a minute, and someone is wondering what bipolar disorder is. Well, bipolar disorder is a mental disease characterized by frequent episodes of mania, hypomania, and depression. In other words, it is a psychological disease which causes the moods of the patient to waver from high to low frequencies.
With that knowledge, it is possible for us to look at the chemistry behind how lithium impacts your depression. For instance, how does it work? Which does is prescribed? However, before we get there, let us gain more insight about lithium.
Interestingly, Lithium is known to treat the complete temperament spectrum. Lithium does this by being administered at smaller quantities other than the full dosage that is used to treat bipolar disorders.
Well, lithium just like any other drug is administered in doses. Its prescription is either low dose or the full dose. As stated earlier, the low treatment is prescribed for other mental illnesses in the mood spectrum while the entire dose is specified for the bipolar disorder.
At this point, it is important to note that from the low doses of lithium, it was discovered that it could be as a depressant. Lithium for depression is perfect for getting rid of suicidal thoughts, decreases a person’s anger, and stabilizes moods for long-term periods.
Just like any other drug, lithium to has side effects when used. Psychiatrists, therefore, should monitor their patients carefully to ensure that the right dosage is taken. The low-dose lithium has fewer side effects while the full dose lithium is known to cause numerous side effects.
There are some common lithium intake side effects such as thirstiness. Lithium has a similar nature to sodium thus when taken it dehydrates the body leaving the person feeling thirsty. It is advised that plenty of water should be received by the patient to avoid instances of a dry mouth.
Some other people experience bouts of nausea from lithium intake as a result of the Lithoid and Eskalith components released by lithium. Becoming nauseous is an indicator that the lithium level in your blood is high. It is thus, essential for one to take an immediate blood test to ascertain this and be advised accordingly by your doctor/psychiatrist.
Full dose lithium causes tremors (shaky fingers). A doctor/psychiatrist can minimize instances of earthquakes by prescribing his patient a low dose of propranolol, a medication that is used for blood pressure if it is decided that the lithium medication will not come to a halt.
Another common side effect of lithium is gaining weight as a result of plenty of water intake. To some people, it occurs at the onset of lithium intake while to others it occurs throughout their lithium medication period.
Here, medication can be switched, or the patient may opt to engage in physical exercises as well as avoiding alcoholic drinks to prevent further gaining of weight.
Edema is also common among people taking lithium whereby their ankles swell due to a lot of water intake. Edema might also cause the person feeling bloated at most times whereas higher doses of lithium cause drying of skin due to dehydration and some other instances it causes frequent diarrhea.
Extremely high doses of lithium cause slurring of discourse, nausea, heavy urination, unsteady feelings, and confusion. It is advisable to visit a doctor/psychiatrist if you note these symptoms. Note that it can be extremely fatal if the intake of lithium continues at this stage.
Lithium intake is also known to cause some severe side effects such as kidney failure, it decreases the level of thyroid hormone in the blood, seizures, slowed breathing, coma and can also lower the functioning of the kidney. Be careful to ensure you have plenty of water intake as well as taking the prescribed dose of Lithium to avoid these fatal side effects which might lead you to your grave.
How is Lithium used for Depression?
Depression is a mental illness whereby the person has feelings of low mood. Anybody can get depression. This is because depression is caused by stressful lifetime events, vulnerable early lifetime experiences, physical ailments, genes, and recreational remedies.
Depressed people may at times attempt to commit suicide. Thus the need for them to seek medical assistance. Depression can be treated by general practitioners, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists.
There are different treatments for depression such as psychotherapy and medication, during the treatment of depression under medicine, patients are prescribed lithium intake. Lithium used for depression is prescribed in low doses.
Therefore, it is essential for used how lithium is used for depression and how it works. Ever since the 1940s, scientists have carried out researches to understand how lithium works.
They have been an unsuccessful couple of times, but recently, the cracked the nut.
In the year 1998, researchers from Wisconsin University discovered that lithium used for depression targets the brain nerve cells, and the glutamate neurotransmitter receptors.
Glutamate neurotransmitter is responsible for causing depression as well as bipolar disorder.
Low levels of glutamate neurotransmitter in the brain causes depression while high levels cause bipolar disorder. Well, this is where lithium comes in. Lithium used for depression is excellent at balancing glutamate neurotransmitters at a balanced level.
During the depression, the glutamate level in the brain is low. Lithium used for depression is prescribed to moderate the glutamate levels in the brain thus lowering depression. Note that, extremely high levels of glutamate in the brain could lead to epileptic confiscations.
Lithium used for depression works in two primary mechanisms. These are;
- The biological clock cleaner mechanism; molecules present in lithium smoothens the biological clocks that were gummed up by grief. Lithium used for depression, in this case, targets the glutamate neurotransmitter levels in the brain by bringing it to moderation thus treating depression.
- The cell fertilizer mechanism; neurotrophic elements present in lithium facilitates the growth of brain cells. Individual brain cells known as glial cells get affected tremendously in people suffering from depression.
- Particular glial cells known as oligodendrocytes decrease in people suffering from depression. The dosage of lithium used for depression causes the oligodendrocytes to grow. The oligodendrocytes thus work to ensure that a balance is maintained between normal reactions to stressful happenings.
- In some other cases, lithium is used as an adjunct; whereby it is added to other antidepressants in extremely low doses to trigger their functionality. Some antidepressants lack the content to monitor glutamate levels thus lithium makes it possible.
- Regular blood tests should be undertaken to monitor the lithium levels in the blood to avoid having extreme levels which might cause tremors, coma, kidney failure, and a decrease in the thyroid hormone in the body.
A single lithium pill is 300g though there are those as low as 5g. A person suffering from depression should take at least 900g of lithium in a day. One can decide to make one in the morning, one during lunch hour and the other one at night or one in the morning and the other two at night.
If you experience bouts of nausea, it is recommendable for you to visit your physician to lower the dose.
Remember, frequent blood tests are required to monitor lithium levels in the blood. This ensures that lithium does not cause adverse health effects such as seizures.
Lithium used for depression does not cause addiction. However, when one ceases using it, some symptoms might reoccur though not for a long time. Therefore, it is wise to stop lithium medication in stages.
For instance, you can start by being off lithium for some days, weeks, months, years, and then forever. As a result, the reoccurrence of symptoms will be narrowed down.
Benefits of Lithium for depression
There are numerous health benefits from lithium used for depression despite the side effects discussed earlier. For instance;
Lithium for depression is neuroprotective
Prolonged lithium medication was established to bring glutamate-induced excitotoxicity into a robust reduction mediated by the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Lithium for depression can inhibit calcium influx that mediates the NMDA receptor action. As a result, it is useful in the treatment of depression.
Lithium for depression acts as an apoptosis inhibitor
It upsurges Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs). HSPs promotes atypical proteins disposal, the foldaway of proteins, and the foldaway of the misfolded proteins. HSP70, a type of HSPs, wields a wide range of neuroprotective influences counter to apoptosis which is mediated by GSK-3 (Glycogen synthase kinase three betas) inhibition.
Lithium medication induces Bcl-2, an anterior cortex protein, its production. The Bcl-2 protein safeguards cells from apoptosis. As a result, the brain cells are kept alive thus to help in the fight against depression as aided by the glutamate neurotransmitters.
It increases neurotrophic factors BDNF, GDNF, and NGF
Cultured neurons chronic treatment with lithium leads to the induction of BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) which is necessary for cognitive development, neuronal endurance with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety results, and synaptic flexibility which might be as a result of GSK-3 inhibition.
Lithium also upsurges the Glial-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF) and the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) found in the striatum, hippocampus, occipital cortex, and the frontal cortex. In the central nervous system, GDNF and NGF help in increasing the serotonergic, dopaminergic, and cholinergic neurons’ neuronal plasticity and survival.
Lithium improves cognitive functioning and intensifies neurogenesis
Research shows that lithium stimulates progenitor cells found in the memory center (hippocampal) neurons.
Furthermore, it inhibits the damage of proliferation which is induced by the glutamate. Not only does lithium medication enhance hippocampus neurogenesis but also restores brain neurogenesis.
Long-lasting lithium medication also increases the hippocampus’ neurons long-term potentiation (LTP), thus making the nerve cells further proficient. As a result, it improves the memory and learning capabilities of a person.
Lithium used for depression helps in the remodeling of the brain and heart
Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) production is increased with lithium for depression treatment. VEGF is responsible for the promotion of the growth of cells and blood vessels’ remodeling after suffering from a stroke. Lithium does this through GSK-3 inhibition mechanism.
People suffering from depression are therefore safe from suffering from strokes due to lithium intake.
Lithium used for depression is capable of calming and stabilizing moods
Lithium is known to have a mood stabilizing and calming effect in individuals thus used in schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder treatment.
Lithium carbonate is used in the reduction of aggressive behavior in people who suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Lithium can be used in the reduction of seizures
People who are suffering from depression and are at the same epileptic can highly benefit from lithium intake. Lithium has the effect of minimizing occurrences of epileptic seizures if taken in the prescribed low-doses by the physician.
Lithium for depression can be used in alcoholism treatment
Most people suffering from depression, are alcoholics. Therefore, when they seek out lithium treatment for depression, unknowingly, they are also treating themselves against alcoholism.
The lithium compound, lithium orotate, is mainly used in alcoholism treatment. It has minor side effects on the patients such as appetite loss and some muscle weaknesses. Lithium carbonate also promotes alcohol abstinence, diminishes withdrawal’s subjective signs and symptoms, and delays the urge to drink.
It is therefore very hard for patients treated with lithium to undergo rehabilitation from alcoholism during one and a half years follow-up.
Lithium helps in relieving headaches
Depression patients continuously suffer from migraines. Good news is that lithium carbonate is useful for reducing such problems hence no need seeking further medication.