Using lithium safely: Prevent lithium side effects with essential fatty acids

Over a decade ago, a woman visited Tahoma Clinic on the advice of her psychiatrist. She was severely bipolar, requiring a maximum dose of lithium carbonate to keep her symptoms under control. Despite close monitoring of serum lithium levels to maintain a safe range, she was starting to show many signs of toxicity, including hypertension, tremor, nausea and proteinuria.

She and her psychiatrist had tried other medications, but none provided the control of her bipolar symptoms that lithium did. As she asked: “Is there an alternative to either the psych ward or the medical wing?” Fortunately, there was, and is.

Without changing her dose, she was started on flaxseed oil, one tablespoon (15cc) three times daily along with 800 IU of vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). One month later, her blood pressure had normalised, her tremor and nausea were gone, and there was no further protein in the urine. Her bipolar symptoms remained under control. She was advised to cut the flaxseed oil to one tablespoon daily along with 400 IU of vitamin E. Several years later, her lithium toxicity hasn’t returned.

I’m grateful to Dr. David Horrobin for the basic information about how to prevent and treat lithium toxicity, as illustrated by this case. Years ago during a lecture on fatty acid metabolism, he pointed out in passing that lithium could inhibit a vital step, but that this could be overcome by providing more ‘precursor’ fatty acid to overwhelm this inhibition. This simple procedure works in vivo as well as in vitro.

To be on the safe side, flaxseed oil (or other essential fatty acids), along with vitamin E, should be taken daily by anyone taking lithium. With low dose lithium, a teaspoonful or two daily is usually sufficient.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Jonathan V. Wright
Nutrition & Healing

Volume 6, Issue 8 – August 2012

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.

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