Lithium strengthens cells in the brain.
You always knew you were special (most of us have many positive qualities) and that being diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder in your late teens or early adulthood (most common ages of onset of the illness) may also mean you have a good dose of intelligence packed into that noggin of yours; even be smarter than most others.
But did you know you were a ninja in training? Destined to enter into a special zone – the psych void – and be treated by brilliant physicians who are going to put that brain of yours that went haywire on a map that hasn’t even been drawn yet? Really.Due to Death From Toxicity Lithium Was Banned From Use in U.S. Until 1970. Click To Tweet
You will surpass the stratosphere, reach mental heights never observed before and… wait, this is the best part: get a drug that is going to make the brain cells they think are causing this craziness even stronger. Stronger! No more weak bipolar brain cells.
No sirree. This illness is not for the meek, you know. It’s for ninjas!
You will be prescribed designer drugs to help in this process as we all know the world needs more ninjas. More smart folks like you with super powers of the brain and that brain needs to be fortified with… wait for it… the bionic-empowered salt lithium.
Related post: Neuroprotective Properties of Lithium.
Seriously, is that not the coolest thing ever?
How Was Lithium Discovered?
An Australian psychiatrist – John Cade, M.D. – happened upon it by chance in 1949 by doing experiments with mentally ill persons urine and guinea pigs. The very short version is that he discovered the urine from the mentally ill made the small mammals die faster than urine from normal persons.
He postulated the reason for this difference was the mentally ill persons had high concentrations of uric acid in their urine. You may think of ‘gout’ when you hear the term uric acid and you would be correct. But we are talking about bipolar.
So what did Dr. Cade then discover?
He added some things to the solution he was injecting into the guinea pigs to test his hypothesis and to try to increase the water solubility of the urine and make it less toxic (so the little guys wouldn’t die as quickly). One thing he played around with was lithium ion. He found lithium ion had a calming effect and surmised it may have the same effect on humans.
He took a little himself and experienced the same effect, so went on to give it to patients and the rest, as they say, is history.
Note: lithium was used in psychiatry before this discovery by Dr. Cade and after his discovery the new ‘miracle drug’ (but of course, only miracles create ninjas you know…) caused many patient deaths due to toxicity. It was banned from use in the U.S. until 1970. Source: John Cade.
Does Lithium Strengthen Brain Cells?
How miracles go, besides creating badass ninjas, is that they fade away or become more prominent, more miraculous. That’s happened with lithium and the treatment of bipolar disorder.
Now that it is much more safe to take (if they do feel they need to prescribe a high dose there are blood tests that can determine if you are becoming toxic) and drug companies have patents for forms of it so money is being made… it’s become better than just having an observable therapeutic effect.
Note: That is what lithium does – gives a calming effect and this in turn can help many with severe mood issues or psychotic symptoms. But – to be clear again – it does NOT correct any identifiable imbalance in your brain. Re-read this please if you still are thinking that and if so I am going to have to take away your ninja certificate. Hmmmph. What is the Chemical Imbalance Theory?
Now, not only is lithium as a drug warranted for use in the treatment of Bipolar 1 Disorder – since it helps many manage debilitating mood episodes – even though it has very serious long-term debilitating side effects it is said to have identifiable positive effects on your brain cells.
It makes them stronger maybe, or encourages their growth. Now that is cool. It is being studied on its affects on Alzheimers also.
Update October 12th, 2017: I’ve learned more and it really isn’t that cool. The ‘strengthening’ is a short term effect and does not support long term use, which causes serious side effects.
Related post: Neuroprotective Properties of Lithium.
Personally, I am trying to learn more about research that has already been done in this area and what the new trends are. I am trying to learn about it as I want to add a new chapter to my book at a later date or at least compile the research information into some form of a freebie e-book for folks. with my special ninja skills of making complicated topics easy to understand.
So when someone is ill, and overwhelmed by the diagnosis they have a resource to help them understand better what they are dealing with, give hope and also prevent victimization from non-ninja psychiatrists. The ninja ones we like.
Can You Be Intolerant to Lithium Treatment?
Lithium is the treatment of choice for bipolar and for good reason; it helps many sufferers. Unfortunately, this illness is not simply a biological state of ‘lithium-deficiency’ in your brain and body. Like me, some are intolerant to the treatment. I was given lithium twice for bipolar – once for a year at a dose needing blood monitoring – and my condition worsened, not improved.
Though to be fair, I did not become manic while on the med but it led to much increase in depression creating a serious depressive episode with suicidal ideation – not fun and it was awful. And after I slowly went off the med, and felt better plus turned to more natural treatments for the fatigue and depression – I did have episodes of mania over the course of a few years.
It’s a bitch of an illness, a pretty horrific illness at times – suitable only for true to form real life badass ninjas.
If you want to know some potential side effects from taking lithium here is a good source that separates them into categories also (less common, common, rare) including a section on what happens if you overdose on lithium: Side Effects.
A Ninja I am Not – My Brain and Body Were Simply Sick
After I went off lithium treatment (ended care with the psychiatrist) I did improve as far as depression and fatigue – but I also ended-up hospitalized a few times in the years that followed. It can be hard to avoid that when you are Manic Depressive and I was not, unfortunately, an exception to that general rule.
Let’s understand this illness better – and get at the root causes so treatments can be given that can help a sufferer heal. We know for certain now it is not a lithium-deficiency causing things to go on in the body that then contribute to some of its pathological states… but that lithium can help control these out of control or extreme states.
What other things can have this effect i.e. cause severe depression or mania? What is really going on in the body? It’s crucial work. We all know the world needs more ninjas.