Lithium’s New Frontier
But the side effects of taking lithium can be, at the very least, uncomfortable—symptoms include excessive thirst, weight gain, thyroid problems, and even kidney failure.
Lithium is extremely effective, but has these, among other, unwanted side effects.
Because of this, researchers are now looking for insight into exactly how lithium works in the body.
With knowledge on how lithium actually works, scientists hope to make a safer alternative.
Bipolar affects nearly 9 million adults in the United States alone, and it’s imperative that we have effective, safe drugs on the market for a disease that we know, for the most part, needs to be controlled on a biological level.
There are advantages to using lithium at present.
For instance, it is the only medication proven to prevent suicide in the mania phase of bipolar disorder.
It is also inexpensive, which makes it widely available.
Those that take lithium know that one of its drawbacks is the fine line between a therapeutic and toxic dose—hence the frequent blood draws.
There is hope that this negative can be eliminated with a similar medication—one that researchers are going to have to formulate for the future.
The experts want to know how exactly lithium stabilizes mood.
News on this new research comes from the literature of the American Chemical Society.
The ACS is a nonprofit organization chartered by U.S. Congress. It is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in chemistry-related news and ideas.
The current alternatives to lithium are anticonvulsants. These drugs treat mania and stabilize moods. However, they just aren’t as effective as lithium in preventing depression or suicide.
Other drugs that can be prescribed for bipolar disorder include antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety medications.
Antipsychotics treat distorted or psychotic thinking that can occur in an episode of mania.
Antidepressants can be effective for depression, but there is a risk in them sparking a manic episode.
Anti-anxiety medications can help with symptoms that occur during manic episodes, but there is a risk of abuse and dependency.
One other interesting fact about lithium is that it is a naturally occurring substance—do you remember seeing it on the periodic table in chemistry class?
It works by changing the chemical environment of the brain—very naturally.
And so, as we’ve talked about, scientists are very curious as to how they can mimic this salty therapy.
My experience with lithium is that it works very quickly and almost like magic, although the thirst, exhaustion, and inability to be out in the heat for very long can be uncomfortable.
However, I’ve grown to realize that I rather be experiencing the side effects of lithium than be psychotic or suicidal.
I often worry about what long term effects lithium could have on my body, but I have a very intense, treatment-resistant case of bipolar disorder.
Lithium, right now, is my only viable option if I am to live a “normal” life.
Do you take or have ever taken lithium? What do you think about the drug? What are the pros and cons of lithium that you have experienced? What do you think about scientists studying lithium’s effects to come up with a new-age, similar medication?
Dawkins, K. (2013). Lithium’s New Frontier. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 1, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-life/2013/03/lithiums-new-frontier/