Studies on lithium and alcoholism have been mixed, and a consensus hasn’t been reached about whether it can help reduce alcohol consumption and favourably alter mood. But in 41 years of nutritionally-oriented practice many alcoholics – and relatives of alcoholics – have told me that low-dose lithium has been very helpful for them.
In mainstream medicine, lithium is commonly prescribed as 300mg of lithium carbonate capsules containing approximately 55mg of elemental lithium. Typically, a doctor will prescribe one or two capsules, three times a day, for a total of 165mg to 330mg of elemental lithium daily. Quantities this high must be monitored closely with blood testing as a distinct possibility of toxic effects exists.
Low-dose lithium is available online as lithium orotate or lithium aspartate containing 5mg to 20mg of elemental lithium per tablet or capsule. However, it is best to consult your doctor if you are interested in these products so that your dosage and blood levels can be closely monitored. (Dr. Hans Nieper of Germany pioneered the use of mineral orotates and aspartates. His paper on his use of lithium orotate and other valuable information is available through the Brewer Library of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.)
Even when 20mg to 30mg of elemental lithium are taken, serum lithium levels are usually reported as non-detectable or below ‘therapeutic range’ (the range established for monitoring lithium carbonate use in bipolar disorder). This may be why no one has reported symptoms of lithium excess in 25 years. However, even with low-dose lithium it’s wise to also take an essential fatty acid supplement and mixed tocopherols, as these can prevent you – and (in sufficient dosage) rescue you – from lithium overdose, even at much higher doses.
I advise practising alcoholics to use a total of 20mg to 30mg of lithium daily (along with diet advice, niacin and glutamine supplements). Non-practising alcoholics are asked to use 20mg (occasionally more). Most practising and non-practising alcoholics report an improvement in mood and a decreased desire for alcohol.
Direct blood relatives of alcoholics (parents, children, siblings) are asked to take a total of 10mg to 15mg of lithium aspartate or orotate, even if no mood problem has been noted. This is a safe ‘personal clinical trial’ and should be discontinued in six to eight weeks if no difference is seen.
I also recommend that relatives of alcoholics discuss this ‘personal clinical trial’ with close family members since experience has shown that people often don’t notice subtle – or even not so subtle – mood changes in themselves, but immediate family members do.
Most users see a positive change which often includes less depression and irritability (sometimes pre-menstrual, sometimes not) for women, and less irritability and a calmer temper for men. For a minority of users no differences are seen, and in these cases they are, of course, advised to discontinue.
The longest duration of continuous low-dose lithium orotate use of which I’m aware has been 17 years. This woman, whose brother was alcoholic, reports that if she discontinues low-dose lithium, she ‘gets a little depressed every time’. She had been unaware of this minor depression before her own personal clinical trial of low-dose lithium.
As always, everyone’s health circumstances are different. After considering low-dose lithium for yourself and discussing it with your family, please discuss it with your own doctor. If you like, he or she can do blood tests to make sure lithium levels stay safely low.Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 8, Issue 11 – November 2014
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.