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Lithium in water may prevent suicide

Wednesday July 29th 2020

High lithium levels in drinking water may be associated with a protective effect against suicide, according to a new analysis.

The possible link was investigated in the light of rising suicide rates in many countries. Because lithium is widely used for stabilising mood, the effect of naturally-occurring lithium in drinking water was measured.

Lithium is present in trace amounts in rocks, and is mobilised by weathering into soils, ground and standing water.

Professor Anjum Memon, of Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK, and colleagues combined 15 previous studies on lithium in water, carried out between 1946 and 2018.

This showed a “consistent protective (or inverse) association between lithium levels/concentration in publicly available drinking water and total, male, and female suicide mortality rates”.

Findings appeared in British Journal of Psychiatry on Monday (27 July).

Professor Memon said: “It is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health.

“In these unprecedented times of Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent increase in the incidence of mental health conditions, accessing ways to improve community mental health and reduce the incidence of anxiety, depression and suicide is ever more important.”

Commenting on the study, Professor Allan Young, an expert in mood disorders at King’s College London, said: “The levels of lithium in drinking water are far lower than those recommended when lithium is used as medicine although the duration of exposure may be far longer, potentially starting at conception.”

Memon, A. et al. Association between naturally occurring lithium in drinking water and suicide rates: systematic review and meta-analysis of ecological studies. British Journal of Psychiatry 27 July 2020 doi: 10.1192/bjp.2020.128

https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.128

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Mental Health | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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