This stuff in drinking water may help lower suicide risk

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In a new study, researchers found that naturally occurring lithium in public drinking water may have an anti-suicidal effect.

They collated research from around the world and found that geographical areas with relatively high levels of concentration of lithium in public drinking water had correspondingly lower suicide rates.

The research was conducted by a team from King’s College London.

The prevalence of mental health conditions and national suicide rates are increasing in many countries.

Worldwide, over 800,000 people die by suicide every year, and suicide is the leading cause of death among persons aged 15-24 years.

In these unprecedented times of COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent increase in the incidence of mental health conditions, accessing ways to improve mental health and reduce the incidence of anxiety, depression, and suicide is ever more important.

Lithium, sometimes referred to as the ‘Magic Ion’, is widely and effectively used as a medication for the treatment and prevention of manic and depressive episodes, stabilizing mood and reducing the risk of suicide in people with mood disorders.

Its anti-aggressive properties can help reduce impulsivity, aggression, violent criminal behavior, and chronic substance abuse.

Lithium is a naturally occurring element and is found in variable amounts in vegetables, grains, spices and drinking water.

It is present in trace amounts in virtually all rocks, and is mobilized by weathering into soils, ground and standing water, and thus into the public water supply.

The health benefits and curative powers of naturally occurring lithium in water have been known for centuries.

The Lithia Springs, an ancient Native American sacred medicinal spring, with its natural lithium-enriched water, is renowned for its health-giving properties.

In fact, the popular soft drink 7-Up contained lithium when it was created in 1929.

Recent studies have also linked lithium to reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. This raises the potential for its preventative use to combat the risk of dementia.

The current study involved a systematic review of all previous studies on the topic—conducted in Austria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, UK, Japan and USA—which correlated naturally occurring lithium levels in drinking water samples and suicide rates in 1,286 regions/counties/cities in these countries.

The team says it is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health.

More knowledge of the beneficial properties of lithium and its role in regulating brain function can lead to a deeper understanding of mental illness and improve the wellbeing of patients with depression and other mental health problems.

One author of the study is Professor Anjum Memon, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine.

The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

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