It is funny sometimes, looking back on the journey you take to discover something new and personal to your health. Of all the lessons that I’ve learned from reading through thousands of research studies on genes, the most important lessons sometimes come from stumbling across a nugget of information that hits a chord. For me, seeing first hand the power of supplementing with a little mineral (lithium orotate) was eye-opening as to the power of combining genetics with nutrients.
Let me cut to the chase (since no one reads to the end of the article): for some people, supplementing with lithium orotate helps with anxiety, mood, and anger issues, while for other people, lithium orotate supplements will have little or no effect. Genes play a role in this.
Before going any further into this, I want to clarify that I’m referring to supplementing with an over-the-counter mineral supplement of lithium orotate or lithium aspartate. This is different than the large, prescription doses of lithium carbonate used for bipolar disorder. Lithium is actually a naturally occurring mineral that is found in foods at concentrations dependent upon the mineral content of the soil. We naturally get about 3 -4 mg in our food each day. Supplemental lithium orotate comes in 5mg and 10 mg dosages.
Dr. Amy Yasko explains on her website why she thinks some of us need and use more of the mineral lithium than others. She recommends checking lithium levels for all autistic children and suggests supplementing with low levels of lithium for MTR/MTRR mutations. Dr. Yasko states that “Lithium not only plays a role in mood, glutamate control and limiting aggression but also has been shown to be involved in B12 transport.”[ref] She recommends making sure your lithium level is in balance before adding in B12.
In addition to Dr. Yasko’s clinical work associating B12 and lithium, there are several studies showing this as well.[ref] [ref] Why is vitamin B12 so darn important to your mood? Vitamin B12, along with folate, is essential for the production of tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4) which, in turn, is involved in the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.[ref]
On a personal note, one family member (who is homozygous for several of the snps below) found that supplementing with lithium orotate and B12 was extremely helpful and is no longer irritated by, well, everyone and everything. The rest of the family, without the homozygous SNPs, doesn’t really notice any difference when taking lithium orotate, showing once again that everyone is different. It is truly amazing, though, the difference it makes when you hit on the right food or supplement for your body and your genes.
Here is a list of the MTR and MTRR SNPs involved and the allele to look for:
Check your 23andMe results: (v.4 and v.5)
Dr. Yasko also has an excellent video of a seminar where she lays out her research on the effects of lithium. She makes the case that lithium, through the inhibition of thioredoxin, can increase COMT, which is an enzyme that regulates and degrades dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. She now also checks the COMT status in regards to lithium supplementation.
Check your 23andMe results: (v.4 and v.5)
Lithium orotate and lithium aspartate are both available in health food stores and online in 5 mg doses. Amazon carries several brands including Seeking Health’s Lithium Orotate (5mg) and Weyland’s Lithium Orotate (5mg or 10mg)*.
Natural Sources of Lithium:
Lithium occurs naturally in spring water in certain areas and can range from less than 1 mcg/l to well over 100 mcg/l. It is also found in the soil and can be taken up by plants depending on the concentration in the soil. Here is a map of a few places in the US showing lithium levels in the well water.
A study in 1989 looked at the lithium levels in the water in 27 counties in Texas. The study showed that counties that had water with higher lithium levels had significantly lower violent crime rates and suicide rates. There have been several more studies completed more recently in other countries that show the same decrease in suicide and homicide with higher levels of naturally occurring lithium.
Studies on lithium levels found naturally in drinking water:
- Lithium in the Public Water Supply and Suicide Mortality in Greece 2013 – “The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the association between lithium levels in the public water supply and prefecture-based suicide rates in Greece. Analyses were conducted with respect to lithium levels in 149 samples from 34 prefectures of Greece. The average lithium level was 11.10 [mu]g/l (range 0.1 to 121 [mu]g/l). The results indicate that there is a tendency for lower suicide rates in the prefectures with high levels of lithium in drinking water.”
- A Negative Association Between Lithium in Drinking Water and the Incidences of Homicides, in Greece, 2015 – “total of 149 samples of drinking water were collected from 34 out of 52 prefectures, and data for homicides were taken from National Statistic Service of Greece (Hellenic Statistical Authority – EL.STAT). The average lithium level was 11.10 [mu]g/l (SD=21.16). The results indicate that there is a tendency for a lower mean number of homicides in the prefectures with high levels of lithium in drinking water (R ^sup 2^=0.054, [beta]=-0.38, p=.004).”
Lithium and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA):
Several studies have found that lithium reduces arachidonic acid (inflammatory polyunsaturated fatty acid) production in the brain. One theory is that this reduction of neuroinflammation is a reason that prescription strength lithium chloride works for bipolar disorder. For more information about genetics and variants that affect fatty acid composition, check out the article on Omega-3 vs. Omega-6 fats and your genes.
These two studies are worth reading if you are interested in the link between lithium and neuroinflammation:
- Lithium modifies brain arachidonic and docosahexaenoic metabolism in rat lipopolysaccharide model of neuroinflammation – 2010.
- Lithium and the Other Mood Stabilizers Effective in Bipolar Disorder Target the Rat Brain Arachidonic Acid Cascade – 2014
Lithium in the News:
There have been a couple of really good articles recently explaining the benefits of a little lithium.
- Should We all Take a Bit of Lithium – New York Times article
- Could You Have a Lithium Deficiency? – Psychology Today article
Uses for high dosage lithium:
For well over a century, lithium has been used in high pharmacological doses (typically 300-1200+ mg per day) to treat bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. It is also being investigated and used to slow the progress of ALS, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies on lithium (pharmacological doses for mood disorders) and genetic polymorphisms:
- Prophylactic lithium response and polymorphism of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene.– 2005 Those with the BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor gene) variant known as Val66Met (rs6265 -T allele, Met), had a better response to lithium for bipolar mood disorder.
- Influence of an interaction between lithium salts and a functional polymorphism in SLC1A2 on the history of illness in bipolar disorder. – 2012 In looking at the SLC1A2 -181A>C variant (rs4354668) T/T homozygotes had a lower number of manic/depressive episodes while on lithium.
- Serotonin transporter gene associated with lithium prophylaxis in mood disorders. 2001. The study showed that for those with the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR variant known as the short/short variant had a worse response to lithium for mood disorders. See the SNPedia article on 5-HTTLPR to figure out whether you are short or long on that gene.
- There are quite a few other studies on the effects of genetic variants on lithium response for bipolar disorder. A search of PubMed will give you a lot of information.
Safety of taking lithium:
Prescription levels of lithium do come with long-term side effects including higher risks of hypothyroidism and kidney problems.
- Lithium toxicity from an internet dietary supplement, 2007 — case study of an 18-year-old who took 18 tablets of Find Serenity Now, each of which contained 120mg of lithium orotate. She went to the emergency department with nausea and was discharged after a few hours to a psychiatric hospital.
- Lithium toxicity profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis, 2012 — A meta-study on side effects from prescription dosages of lithium carbonate used for mood disorders showed that lithium increased the risk for hypothyroidism and weight gain. It also showed an increased risk of renal failure, with overall risk being 0.5%.
Updated on 2/4/2017