It's not often that we talk about third level minerals, also known as the "additional elements" on a Hair Tissue Miner Analysis (HTMA), but we thought it'd be pretty important to write up on a specific one-lithium.
When people hear 'lithium', they immediately think "a drug", but lithium is actually a mineral, and considered to be quite important. In fact, the World Health Organization has added it to its list of nutritionally essential trace elements along with zinc, iodine, and others. Yes, it has been utilized as a form of medication, specifically for individuals with mental health issues, but it has other functions than that.
First, let's discuss a little about its helpfulness in mental health.
Lithium seems to work in two different ways in the body’s neurochemistry:
- Repairing damaged neurons
- Stimulating neuronal growth
For those who aren't aware, neurons are responsible for the transport and uptake of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, oxytocin, etc., which communicate information between brain cells. It is thought that lithium has an effect on balancing one's mood through the alterations of these neurotransmitters in the synapses and modulation of secondary messenger pathways that effect neurotransmission as well as potentially triggering or shutting off certain genes.
There have been studies showing the effectiveness of lithium as a prophylactic for mania and depression. The reason for this is because, yes, anti depressants could definitely help with individual struggling with depression, but can come with a cost of side effects like agitation, restlessness, anxiety, and even anger or impulsive behavior. Lithium on the other hand seems to stabilize mood and calm an individual into feeling more focused, sharp and present. There is a hypothesis that lithium supports serotonin activity, and even though too much serotonin can make someone feel awful, too little can result in agitated, aggressive or reckless behavior.
Other examples lithium seems to be useful in are in those struggling with bi polar disorder, substance abuse, violent and aggressive behavior, ADHD, and cognitive decline like Alzheimer's and dementia. It's been shown to protect the brain against damage from oxidative stress.
But wait, here's the most interesting part about all of this and how lithium could potentially be a missing link to mood disorders and even poor thyroid function.
Did you know that lithium influences iodine status? Just like our active thyroid hormone (T3), lithium is used in every cell in the body, meaning its effects translate into more than just brain or mood function. Iodine is a halogen that is recognized for its importance in producing thyroid hormones. You can read all about that here. Regarding lithium and thyroid though, did you know a symptom of low thyroid function is depression? Or that hypothyroidism could lower serotonin thus lead to depression? Or that even hyperthyroidism could elevate serotonin too much and lead to mood disorders? Lithium is part of that equation in how it influences how the body is utilizing iodine, and so sometimes maybe it's not so much you have an iodine imbalance, but rather a lithium imbalance.
Symptoms of a lithium deficiency include aggression, mania and depression, where as an excess shows up as hypothyroidism, fatigue, weakness and muscle spasms.
If you are wanting to look more into your lithium status or check your other minerals, definitely check out our HTMA kits and book a consult with one of our nutritionists today by clicking here!
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Integrative Health Coach