Lithium and Alzheimer´s disease
Many knows that lithium, the third smallest element in the periodic system, is used in high doses as a drug for bipolar disorder. What most people don´t know, medical doctors included, is that lithium has a profound effect on a lot of processes in all cells in your body, even in minute amounts, by inhibiting or “balancing” the activity of the enzymes GSK3 and IMPase, but also stimulates the energy production in your mitochondria. All this according to research the last 10-15 years.
Recent research has also showed that this have a lot of implications on your health. But already in 1990 professor Gerald Schrauzer from UCSD publishes a study showing that in areas in Texas, with natural higher levels of lithium in drinking water, there were less suicide, violent crimes, rapes and drug abuse. This has since then been confirmed in respect of suicide in several studies from all over the world. But already in the 1970´s animal studies showed that rats and goats raced on lithium free food were subjected to both physical and behavioral abnormalities.
Today we also know that lithium protects our brain cells from degeneration and stimulates growth of new brain cells. This is due to very complex processes that relates to the effect lithium has on GSK3. Interestingly, but not as a surprise, studies have shown that this has effects on the pathogenesis of e.g. Alzehimer´s, Parkinson´s and MS.
Most promising is the research on the prevention of Alzheimer´s disease. Studies on cell cultures and in animal models has showed that lithium can prevent the formation of both amyloid placks and tau-tangles, the biochemical hallmarks of Alzheimer´s. But there are also studies showing that people with bipolar disease, treated with lithium, have less risk of developing Alzheimer´s.
Despite this, the first two clinical studies on humans trying to show the efficacy of lithium to prevent cognitive decline, published in 2008 and 2009, showed no effect. But in a third study, published 2011, it was showed that the amount of beta-amyloid and phosphorylated tau in cerebrospinal fluid was less in the lithium treated group, but also that the treatment slowed down the cognitive decline. The difference compared to the two previous studies was that the dose of lithium was much lower and that the study was evaluated after 12 months and not only 10 weeks as the previous ones. The drawback was that the new study only included 24 patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment and 21 in the placebo group.
Then in January 2013 the real breakthrough came when Marielza Nunes and co-workers from the faculty of neuropharmacology at the university of Sao Paulo, Brazil, published a study where 113 patients with a score between 9-24 in the MMSE-test were included. A score of less than 27 indicate a cognitive decline. The subjects were divided into two groups of which one got 0,3 mg of lithium a day and the other group placebo. The amount of lithium given corresponds to what you can get from drinking water from areas with increased levels, and was more than 100 times less than the pharmacology dose.
The study subjects performed a new MMSE-test every third month until the study ended after 18 months. Already after 3 months it was a tendency that the lithium group performed better, and at the end of the study it was a strong statistic difference between the two groups. In fact, the MMSE-score was the same for the lithium treated group as it was in the beginning, but much lower in the placebo group.
This was sensational results; a daily microdose of lithium could prevent further cognitive decline! But in the scientific world one positive study needs to be confirmed by consecutive ones from other research groups before it will be accepted. This has not been done yet, but clinical research takes time and cost a lot. No drug company has any interest in this because normally you cannot patent a natural substance as a remedy. Despite this Nunes has filed a patent, but it is not granted yet, and even if it will be granted, no one can prevent people from increase their intake of lithium through natural sources. By eating some vegetables grown in lithium rich soil or drinking mineral water, with elevated levels of lithium, you can easily increase your daily intake of lithium by 0,3 mg per day, e.g the amount Nunes gave her patients.
Nonetheless, Nunes continued her research, and in November 2015 she published an animal study that showed how a microdose lithium could prevent the onset of cognitive decline. In the study a special type of genetically modified mice were used that were prone to get the changes in the brain that characterize Alzheimer´s disease.
This is the outcome of the study cited from the abstract:
“Transgenic mice treated with lithium since two months of age showed decreased number of senile plaques, no neuronal loss in cortex and hippocampus and increased BDNF density in cortex, when compared to non-treated transgenic mice. It is suitable to conclude that these data support the use of microdose lithium in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, …”.
In the article it was also stated:
“Taking together, these data reinforce the protective effect of lithium already observed in human subjects. Moreover, they form an important basis to ensure that lithium microdose can alter the pathological characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, leading to a new hope for the therapeutic treatment of the disease.”
What is needed now is more studies to confirm the results from Nunes and co-workers. In the meantime, the one that would like to know more about the health benefits of a daily microdose of lithium and understand Swedish can read a short version of my book “Lithium the new health mineral”, issued in January 2015 (http://www.arebe.se/Kortversion_litiumboken). A second and updates version will be issued during the fall. An alternative is to buy the book by James M. Greenblatt MD and Kayla Grossmann RN - Nutritional Lithium: A Cinderella Story: The Untold Tale of a Mineral That Transforms Lives and Heals the Brain, that was issued in February 2016. It is essentially the same information about lithium that is in the first issue of my book.
Pehr-Johan Fager, BS in chemistry and biology, 25 years of experience from the medical industry and 15 years as an independent researcher.
Some key references about lithium and Alzheimer´s disease:
1. Nunes MA el al, Microdose lithium treatment stabilized cognitive impairment in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2013 Jan;10(1):104-7.
2. Mauer S et al, Standard and trace-dose lithium: a systematic review of dementia prevention and other behavioral benefits. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2014 Sep;48(9):809-18
3. Nunes MA, et al, Chronic Microdose Lithium Treatment Prevented Memory Loss and Neurohistopathological Changes in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Alzheimer's Disease. PLOS ONE, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0142267 November 25, 2015
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