Study Claims Natural levels of lithium in drinking water helps reduce suicides

flowing tap

Very low levels of lithium in drinking water may help prevent suicide in the general population, according to a new study. The study has prompted calls for further research into the possibility of adding lithium to drinking supplies – like water fluoridation to improve dental health.

Researchers at Oita University in Japan measured natural lithium levels in tap water in 18 communities in the surrounding region of southern Japan. The lithium levels ranged between 0.7 micrograms per litre and 59 micrograms per litre. The researchers then calculated the suicide rate in each of the 18 areas. They found that the suicide rate was significantly lower in those areas with the highest levels of lithium in the water.

Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers said: ""Our study suggests that very low levels of lithium in drinking water can lower the risk of suicide. Very low levels may possess an anti-suicidal effect."

Lithium is a naturally occurring metal found in variable amounts in food and water. In medicine, very high doses are used to treat bipolar disorder and mood disorders. But so far the potential benefit of using low levels of lithium to reduce the risk of suicide has not been studied closely.

Professor Allan Young, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist, has described the study as "intriguing".

Professor Young said: "A logical first step would be for the Medical Research Council to convene an expert working party to examine the available evidence and suggest further research. Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable."

Original Story Taken from Telegraph 01/05/2009
Biol Trace Elem Res. 1990 May;25(2):105-13.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California at San Diego, Revelle College, La Jolla 92093.


Using data for 27 Texas counties from 1978-1987, it is shown that the incidence rates of suicide, homicide, and rape are significantly higher in counties whose drinking water supplies contain little or no lithium than in counties with water lithium levels ranging from 70-170 micrograms/L; the differences remain statistically significant (p less than 0.01) after corrections for population density. The corresponding associations with the incidence rates of robbery, burglary, and theft were statistically significant with p less than 0.05. These results suggest that lithium has moderating effects on suicidal and violent criminal behavior at levels that may be encountered in municipal water supplies. Comparisons of drinking water lithium levels, in the respective Texas counties, with the incidences of arrests for possession of opium, cocaine, and their derivatives (morphine, heroin, and codeine) from 1981-1986 also produced statistically significant inverse associations, whereas no significant or consistent associations were observed with the reported arrest rates for possession of marijuana, driving under the influence of alcohol, and drunkenness. These results suggest that lithium at low dosage levels has a generally beneficial effect on human behavior, which may be associated with the functions of lithium as a nutritionally-essential trace element. Subject to confirmation by controlled experiments with high-risk populations, increasing the human lithium intakes by supplementation, or the lithiation of drinking water is suggested as a possible means of crime, suicide, and drug-dependency reduction at the individual and community level.

Source of Original Article here

Lithium levels in drinking water and risk of suicide.

Department of Neuropsychiatry, Oita University, Oita 879-5593, Japan.


Although lithium is known to prevent suicide in people with mood disorders, it is uncertain whether lithium in drinking water could also help lower the risk in the general population. To investigate this, we examined lithium levels in tap water in the 18 municipalities of Oita prefecture in Japan in relation to the suicide standardised mortality ratio (SMR) in each municipality. We found that lithium levels were significantly and negatively associated with SMR averages for 2002-2006. These findings suggest that even very low levels of lithium in drinking water may play a role in reducing suicide risk within the general population.

Original Source of citation Here

Even very low but sustained lithium intake can prevent suicide in the general population?

Department of Neuropsychiatry, Oita University Faculty of Medicine, Idaigaoka 1-1, Hasamamachi, Yufu, Oita 879-5593, Japan.


Although several meta-analyses have shown anti-suicidal properties of lithium in treating patients with mood disorders, these effects may be unrelated to the mood-stabilizing effects. Some epidemiological studies suggest that even very low lithium levels induced by routine consumption of lithium from tap water may have anti-suicidal effects both in patients with mood disorders and in the general population. We hypothesize that even very low but sustained lithium intake can prevent suicide in the general population. If this is the case, increasing lithium levels of drinking water could potentially reduce the risk of suicide, and justify administering lithium to tap water.

Original source of citation Here

Lithium treatment and suicide risk in major affective disorders: update and new findings.

Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Program, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


BACKGROUND: Evidence that therapeutic benefits of psychiatric treatments include reduction of suicide risk is remarkably limited and poorly studied. An exception is growing evidence for such suicidal risk reduction with long-term lithium maintenance. This report updates and extends analyses of lithium treatment and suicides and attempts. METHOD: We pooled data from studies providing data on suicidal acts, patients at risk, and average exposure times with or without lithium maintenance therapy, and considered effects of lithium on selected subgroups. RESULTS: Data from 34 reported studies involved 42 groups with lithium maintenance averaging 3.36 years, and 25 groups without lithium followed for 5.88 years, representing 16,221 patients in a total experience of 64,233 person-years. Risks for all suicidal acts/100 person-years averaged 3.10 without lithium versus 0.210 during treatment (93% difference) versus approximately 0.315 for the general population. For attempts, corresponding rates were 4.65 versus 0.312 (93% difference), and for completed suicides, 0.942 versus 0.174 (82% difference). Subjects with bipolar versus various recurrent major affective disorders showed similar benefits (95% vs. 91% sparing of all suicidal acts). Risk reductions for unipolar depressive, bipolar II, and bipolar I cases ranked 100%, 82%, and 67%. Suicide risk without lithium tended to increase from 1970 to 2002, with no loss of effectiveness of lithium treatment. CONCLUSION: The findings indicate major reductions of suicidal risks (attempts > suicides) with lithium maintenance therapy in unipolar >/= bipolar II >/= bipolar I disorder, to overall levels close to general population rates. These major benefits in syndromes mainly involving depression encourage evaluation of other treatments aimed at reducing mortality in the depressive and mixed phases of bipolar disorder and in unipolar major depression.

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