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Each year, more than 16 million Americans grapple with anxiety and depression, and numerous medications initially intended for depression-related conditions find use in addressing anxiety issues. In reality, most of us ingest trace amounts of lithium as part of our diet and water intake. 

Although “lithium” often brings to mind a potent medication known for its notable side effects in bipolar disorder, studies indicate that lithium could potentially have advantages in managing a range of other conditions. 

Lithium salts are used in many medicines for depression, bipolar disorder, and mania. They are the benchmark for treating these conditions, even before anxiety disorders were considered treatable in psychiatry. In this article, we will look at the potency and usefulness of lithium for anxiety. 

What is Lithium and its Uses?

Lithium is a chemical element with the symbol Li, a light, soft, silvery-white metal found as atomic number 3 on the periodic table.

Lithium carbonate, commonly known as oral lithium, is a medication derived from lithium, a naturally occurring element renowned as the lightest metal in nature.

It’s essential to underline that lithium’s official approval pertains exclusively to its use in treating depression linked to bipolar disorder

However, it is worth noting that certain medications, such as lithium, effectively manage depression and anxiety symptoms.

This common occurrence highlights the importance of comprehensive treatment strategies that consider the interconnected nature of these mental health conditions. 

Significant improvements in depression (HAMD) and anxiety (HAM-A) symptoms at the six-week endpoint, along with remission and response rates exceeding 50%, underscore the potential benefits of addressing these conditions concurrently with medications that exhibit effectiveness against both.

This approach simplifies treatment and offers hope for an improved quality of life for those dealing with these challenging mental health issues.

Furthermore, lithium is just one of several potential medications a qualified medical professional might recommend in line with therapy to manage anxiety effectively.

It is crucial to emphasize that lithium should never be taken without a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider, as its usage requires careful evaluation and monitoring.

Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that lithium may not be suitable for everyone, as individual responses to the medication can vary significantly.

The Case for Treating Depression with Lithium

The Case for Treating Depression with Lithium
Image Credit: jillcarnahan.com

Lithium is primarily known as a mood stabilizer used in bipolar disorder. However, there is some research suggesting that it may have a role in the treatment of other severe conditions as well. Here are some other states you can use lithium to treat apart from bipolar disorder:

1. Anxiety: Lithium, primarily known for its efficacy in managing mood disorders, has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of anxiety disorders.

According to research findings, lithium has the potential to effectively manage excessive anxiety by modulating neurotransmitter activity and stabilizing mood. 

The results of this open-label trial reveal that lithium is linked to noteworthy enhancements in anxiety symptoms, as indicated by HAM-A scores, demonstrating response and remission rates exceeding 50%.

While it is not typically the initial choice for anxiety treatment, it can be viable when other therapies prove ineffective.

2. Bipolar Depression: Lithium is good at helping people with bipolar depression, where they have ups and downs.

Studies show that in counties where lithium levels were highest, there were 40% fewer suicides. This result confirms that lithium is excellent at preventing suicides in these individuals. 

Lithium’s significance in bipolar depression treatment extends beyond its capacity to reduce the risk of suicide.

Beyond suicide prevention, it effectively alleviates various symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. Researchers theorize that its impact on mood stabilization goes beyond suicide prevention, potentially benefiting individuals with bipolar disorder more broadly. 

Moreover, lithium has an impressive response rate, typically between 70% and 80%, in effectively managing acute manic episodes. This dual benefit underscores its importance as a critical treatment option for those with bipolar disorder.

3. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): In some cases, lithium is prescribed as an adjunct treatment alongside traditional antidepressants for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. It can enhance the effects of antidepressant medications, potentially leading to better outcomes in managing MDD.

4. Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful and challenging to treat. Lithium has been explored as a preventive measure for these debilitating headaches.

It’s thought to influence neurotransmitters and brain chemicals, potentially reducing the frequency and severity of cluster headache attacks.

5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Lithium’s mood-stabilizing effects may be beneficial for individuals with PTSD, helping to mitigate symptoms like mood swings, irritability, and intrusive thoughts. Research in this area is ongoing, but initial findings suggest potential benefits.

6. Alcohol Use Disorder: Some studies have examined lithium’s effectiveness in reducing alcohol cravings and promoting abstinence in individuals with alcohol use disorder. It may work by altering the reward pathways in the brain associated with addiction.

7. Eating Disorders: Lithium has been investigated as a possible treatment for certain eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa. It can help regulate impulsive behavior and mood disturbances often seen in individuals with these conditions.

How Does it Provide Assistance?

Medical experts understand that lithium primarily affects the central nervous system by regulating specific brain chemicals, ultimately helping restore a balanced mood. This complex mechanism underscores lithium’s vital role in treating depression and anxiety disorders. 

On the other hand, lithium therapy is fundamental in managing conditions like anxiety and depression, ensuring its effectiveness and safety.

This critical aspect of managing lithium treatment involves a multifaceted approach encompassing regular blood tests, close collaboration between patients and healthcare providers, and a thorough understanding of the therapeutic range.

Monitoring lithium levels begins with baseline measurements before treatment initiation. Subsequently, patients undergo periodic blood tests, usually every one to three months, to assess lithium concentration in their bloodstream.

These tests help clinicians ascertain whether the lithium dose needs adjustment, ensuring it remains within the therapeutic range.

The therapeutic range for lithium varies among individuals but generally falls between 0.6 to 1.2 milliequivalents per liter (mEq/L) in most cases. Within this range, lithium can effectively stabilize mood and reduce the risk of manic or depressive episodes.

However, levels below this range may render the treatment ineffective, while levels above can lead to toxicity and severe side effects.

Careful monitoring extends beyond laboratory results. Patients are encouraged to actively engage with their healthcare providers, reporting any unusual symptoms or side effects promptly.

This collaboration allows for timely adjustments to the lithium dosage or treatment plan to optimize its benefits and minimize risks.

Moreover, factors such as diet, hydration, and concurrent medications can influence lithium levels. Patients are often educated about maintaining a consistent intake of salt and fluids, as these can affect lithium absorption.

Additionally, healthcare providers should be aware of medications that may interact with lithium, potentially necessitating dosage modifications or alternative treatment options.

What are the Available Types of Lithium Supplements?

Lithium supplements typically come in two forms:

1. Prescription Lithium: This is typically in the form of lithium carbonate or lithium citrate and is prescribed by a healthcare professional to treat mood disorders like bipolar disorder. It’s tightly regulated due to its potential for side effects.

2. Lithium Orotate: This is available over-the-counter as a dietary supplement. It contains a lower dose of lithium and is sometimes used for mood stabilization and overall well-being, though its efficacy and safety are debated.

It’s important to note that self-medicating with lithium, whether prescription or over-the-counter, can be dangerous, as it requires careful monitoring and dosage adjustments by a healthcare provider. Always consult a healthcare professional before considering any form of lithium supplementation.

What is the Recommended Dose of Lithium?

The recommended dose of lithium can vary depending on the individual’s condition and response to the medication. It’s crucial to follow your doctor’s prescribed dose and instructions carefully.

Typically, for bipolar disorder, the initial amount is around 600-900 milligrams per day, divided into two or three doses. 

What are the Potential Side Effects?

Lithium, commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, can have several potential side effects. It’s important to note that not everyone experiences these side effects, and their severity can vary. 

The Short-Term Effects

Lithium is primarily used as a medication to treat bipolar disorder. Its short-term effects include stabilizing mood swings, reducing manic symptoms, and preventing or minimizing depressive episodes.

However, it’s important to note that lithium’s effectiveness and side effects can vary from person to person. Common short-term side effects may include:

1. Increased thirst and urination.

2. Hand tremors.

3. Mild nausea or upset stomach.

4. Weight gain.

5. Frequent urination.

6. Mild drowsiness or dizziness.

7. Fatigue.

6. Muscle Weakness.

9. Increased Thirst.

10. Skin Changes.

These side effects often improve over time, but working closely with a healthcare provider when taking lithium is crucial, as they can monitor your condition and adjust the dosage if necessary. 

Potential Long-Term Effects

Lithium is a medication commonly used to treat bipolar disorder and sometimes depression. It can be effective and safe when prescribed and monitored by a healthcare professional. However, there are potential long-term effects and considerations to keep in mind:

1. Kidney Function: Long-term use of lithium can affect kidney function in some individuals, leading to conditions like nephrogenic diabetes insipidus. Regular monitoring of kidney function through blood tests is essential.

2. Thyroid Function: Lithium can interfere with thyroid function, potentially leading to hypothyroidism. Thyroid function should also be regularly monitored.

4. Cognitive Effects: Some evidence suggests long-term lithium use may affect cognitive function, particularly in older adults. However, the exact extent and mechanisms are still being studied.

5. Bone Health: There are concerns that lithium may affect bone density in the long term, potentially increasing the risk of fractures. Adequate calcium and vitamin D intake and weight-bearing exercise can help mitigate this risk.

6. Pregnancy and Birth Defects: Long-term lithium use during pregnancy can pose risks to the developing fetus, including the potential for congenital disabilities. Women of childbearing should discuss the risks and benefits with their healthcare provider.

7. Mood Changes: Paradoxically, lithium can cause mood swings or worsen depressive symptoms in some cases. This paradoxical effect is not fully understood, but it may be due to individual variations in how lithium is metabolized or its impact on neurotransmitter systems. 

It’s crucial for individuals taking lithium to closely monitor their mood and report any unusual changes to their healthcare provider to adjust their treatment plan accordingly. 

Finding the proper dosage and medication combination becomes crucial when prescribed lithium therapy for managing bipolar or mood disorders.

Many individuals seek professional guidance to navigate this process. This is where online platforms like BetterHelp come into play. 

BetterHelp provides a convenient and accessible avenue for connecting with qualified therapists who can offer expert guidance and support in fine-tuning lithium therapy or exploring alternative treatments to ensure effective management of these conditions.


1. Does lithium calm you down?

Yes, lithium is known to have a calming effect on individuals with certain mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder.

It helps stabilize mood swings and reduce symptoms of mania and depression, ultimately leading to a more balanced emotional state.

2. How long does it take for lithium to work for anxiety?

The onset of lithium’s effects on anxiety can vary from person to person. Lithium may take several weeks to reach its full therapeutic potential for stress.

Patients should work closely with their healthcare provider to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments.

3. What is the best mood stabilizer for anxiety?

The choice of mood stabilizer for anxiety depends on the individual’s specific condition and needs.

Besides lithium, other mood stabilizers like anticonvulsants (e.g., lamotrigine, valproate) and atypical antipsychotics (e.g., olanzapine, quetiapine) may also be considered. The best option should be determined through consultation with a healthcare professional.

4. Is lithium good for stress?

While lithium primarily targets mood disorders like bipolar disorder, it may indirectly help reduce stress by stabilizing mood and preventing extreme emotional fluctuations.

However, it’s not typically prescribed solely for stress management, and other approaches like therapy and stress-reduction techniques may be more suitable.

5. Is lithium good for the brain?

Lithium has been studied for its potential neuroprotective effects, particularly in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Some research suggests that lithium might promote neurogenesis (the growth of new brain cells) and protect existing neurons.

However, its use and benefits in this context require further investigation and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

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