Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw’s®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 16 No. 1 • January 2013

Lithium Identified as a Phy­siological Trace Element in the Human Neocortex

Although some studies have reported significantly fewer impulsive violent crimes and suicides in areas where the water is naturally enriched in lithium (though at far lower levels than the therapeutic concentrations of lithium used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, also called manic-depression), there has never been a pool of lithium identified in the brain according to a new study.1 The new study now reports that using a sophisticated method of measurement in post-mortem human neocortex (quadrupole inductively coupled plasma-mass spectroscopy), researchers have found that lithium is present as a physiological trace element.

Moreover, they also found that cortical levels of lithium are found to be significantly elevated (about twice as high) in the cortexes of bipolar patients as compared to the cortexes of normal controls. They found the cortical lithium levels to average 11.5 ± 5.3 µg/kg in normal controls, 12.5 ± 10.2 µg/kg in schizophrenics and 21.2 ± 11.3 µg/kg in those with bipolar disorder. Importantly, these bipolar subjects had no past history of lithium pharmacotherapy. The researchers report that the lithium levels reported in their study were comparable to plasma reference values and three orders of magnitude lower than therapeutic levels in clinical lithium treatment.

The finding of significantly elevated lithium in the cortexes of bipolar subjects could be, propose the authors as one possible explanation, a compensatory response against a deficient lithium-dependent pathway in bipolar disorder. This is, we think, a very plausible hypothesis. The authors also mention an alternative, that lithium could be accumulated as a pathological sequestration, with secondary deficiency in lithium bioavailability.

As the authors note, remote lithium use by some of the bipolar subjects could not be entirely ruled out because, although they had a board-certified psychiatrist comprehensively evaluate medical records, laboratory results and questionnaires completed by next of kin, there is always the possibility of missing something.

As you may recall, we added lithium at concentrations found in naturally lithium-enriched mineral water that is commercially available to one of our brain health maintenance formulations. (See “Maintain Your Brain” in the May 2004 issue of Life Enhancement.)


  1. Friedlich. Neocortical levels of lithium are increased in bipolar disorder. Mol Psychiatry 17:3-4 (2012) doi:10.1038/mp.2011.90; published online 2 Aug. 2011.

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