I was on the phone with a close friend the other day when she told me that the doctors put her sister on lithium. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked. I have heard of lithium and its use for mental problems, of course, but I didn’t really know much about it. This sister has bipolar disorder and when I met her, she was on a manic episode. I know how uncontrolled she could be, yet I was thinking whether lithium is indeed the solution. So I looked a little bit more into it and here is what I found.
The NIH describes lithium as:
The medication used most often to treat bipolar disorder is lithium. Lithium evens out mood swings in both directions—from mania to depression, and depression to mania—so it is used not just for manic attacks or flare-ups of the illness but also as an ongoing maintenance treatment for bipolar disorder.
What I didn’t realize is that lithium is a naturally occurring substance that could be found in seaweed and other similar materials. It is interesting to note that lithium works both ways – it controls both manic episodes and depressed episodes.
How does it work? It is supposed to affect the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. These are the neurotransmitters that affect the moods of people. As of the moment, lithium is still the treatment of choice for bipolar disorder simply because of its ability to even out mood swings.