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Show 1118: What You Should Know About Lithium

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Learn how low-dose lithium may help treat mental illness, and how bipolar disorder can disrupt everyday life. How does lithium help?
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Lithium rich water from hot springs such as those at Lithia Springs, GA, have long been sought after for their healing properties. This element was used for decades to treat some forms of mental illness, but high doses can be dangerous. As a result, this treatment fell out of favor although it can be effective for problems such as bipolar disorder.

Low-Dose Lithium:

Some psychiatrists are resurrecting the use of lithium to treat mental illness. They are prescribing low-dose lithium for depression and attention disorders as well as for bipolar disorder. What kind of results do they get? How does lithium compare to newer medications? Find out what a patient should know before agreeing to use low-dose lithium.

Pros and Cons of Lithium:

Jaime Lowe has intimate experience with lithium. She developed bipolar disorder as an adolescent. Lithium at standard doses was the medication that helped stabilize her life, but it also wrecked her kidneys.

She became fascinated with the compound and dug deep into its story. She even traveled to a famous place in Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni, where it is mined. Find out what it feels like to experience a bipolar episode and how lithium helped Ms. Lowe.

Learn More:

You can read what we have written previously about this medication here. The New York Times article is here. Recent scientific articles have been published in Neuropsychopharmacology, April 2018; Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology, Nov. 2017; Bipolar Disorders, Nov. 2017; and Bipolar Disorders, Nov. 2017 for the study on drinking water.

This Week’s Guests:

Nassir Ghaemi, MD, MPH, is an academic psychiatrist specializing in mood disorders, depression and bipolar illness. He is editor of a monthly newsletter, The Psychiatry Letter (www.psychiatryletter.org). Dr. Ghaemi is professor of psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where he directs the Mood Disorders Program. He is also a Clinical Lecturer at Harvard Medical School and teaches at the Cambridge Health Alliance. The photograph of Dr. Ghaemi was taken by Martha Stewart. His website is http://www.nassirghaemi.com.

Jaime Lowe is a writer living in Brooklyn and is a frequent contributor to The New York Times magazine. She has also written for New York magazine, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Gawker, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, and ESPN.com.  Lowe is the author of two books: Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB, a biography of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, and most recently Mental: Lithium, Love and Losing My Mind.

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