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Lithium in drinking water helps you live longer

The amount of lithium in the drinking water varies from place to place on this planet. According to Japanese-German research that has been published in the European Journal of Nutrition, people live a little longer if their drinking water contains more lithium. It's a shame 7UP no longer contains lithium.


Lithium in drinking water helps you live longer
Lithium is a light metal that is found in rocks of volcanic origin. Water that flows through these rocks therefore contains more of this element. As long ago as the nineteenth century there were already companies that bottled and sold this water. Scientists believed that the water had health benefits. It was thought that lithium could help fight infectious diseases such as malaria and soften the symptoms of gout.

Mineral waters such as Vichy and Evian were initially also promoted on the basis of their slightly higher lithium concentrations. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was even beer sold in the US that had been brewed using lithium-rich water. It went by the name of Lithia Beer. [Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Jan; 156(1): 129.] [Am J Psychiatry. 2007 Nov; 164(11): 1662.]

The most famous lithium product was launched in 1929. After 2 years of experimenting with flavours, Charles Leiper Grigg came up with Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda. Intended to cure hangovers, this beverage became one of the most popular soft drinks in the world. In fact, it's still on the market, but since 1936 it has gone by the name of 7UP. Grigg advertised 7UP saying that drinking it would make you more energetic and give you lust for life, and on top of that, shinier hair and bright eyes.

Lithium in drinking water helps you live longer

In 1949 the Australian psychiatrist John Cade published studies that showed that lithium could be used to treat manias and stabilise bipolar disorders. [Med J Aust. 1949 Sep 3; 2(10): 349-52.] Cade needed much higher concentrations of lithium to do this than were found in 7UP. But when Cade discovered that even higher concentrations were toxic, the manufacturer of 7UP removed lithium from its product.

Lithium worked so well, however, that Cade initially thought that bipolar disorders were caused by a shortage of lithium. This theory led to 'nutri-criminological' studies which revealed that in areas where the drinking water contained more lithium there were lower serious crime rates and fewer suicides. [Biol Trace Elem Res. 1990 May; 25(2): 105-13.]

Animal study
Japanese researchers at Oita University and Hiroshima International University will soon publish a similar study. The Japanese measured the concentration of lithium in the drinking water in 18 districts and then calculated the standardised mortality ratio. This figure is arrived at by dividing actual mortality by expected mortality. The researchers corrected their figures for suicide. The more lithium the drinking water contained the amount varied from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per litre the lower the standardised mortality ratio.

Lithium in drinking water helps you live longer

That higher concentrations of lithium in drinking water extend life expectation is shown in an animal study carried out by German nutritionists at the University of Jena. The Germans gave the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans ordinary food [black granules] or food that had lithium added to it in approximately the quantity found in the Japanese water with high levels [white granules]. This miniscule amount of lithium extended the lifespan of the worms.

The Germans did not study how the tiny amount of lithium extended the worms' life.

"Given the long-standing psychiatric experience with high-dose lithium supplementation in humans, these findings raise the possibility that readily available low-dose lithium supplementation at non-toxic doses may not only promote mental health and impair suicide risk but also may reduce overall mortality in humans", the researchers conclude.

By the way, lithium supplements are available in webshops. [J Med Toxicol. 2007 Jun;3(2):61-2.] But we might not need these, if we only need to consume the amounts used in the German experiment. Ordinary foods like milk, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms all contain comparatively high amounts of lithium.

Eur J Nutr. 2011 Feb 8. [Epub ahead of print].

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