Lithium-Rich Foods |Why You Need Lithium |Comprehensive Review

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Lithium-Rich Foods–
Why You Need Them In Your Diet
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December  28, 2009, last updated May 20, 2014

By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor
and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of 
Doctors and Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and 
other members of our Editorial Board.]

What is Lithium?

Lithium is an element found in nature, such as calcium or 
potassium. Lithium is a natural-occurring soft metal found in 
the layers of rock and soil on the earth. Scientists believe 
that lithium was one of the first elements in the universe, 
formed at the moment of the Big Bang.

Lithium is in fact everywhere. Lithium exists in our soil, in 
varying degrees around the world, and in our water supply. 
Our water absorbs lithium when it comes into contact with 
lithium-rich soil in river beds, streams and underground 
aquifers. Because our food is grown in soil and uses water 
to grow, lithium also occurs naturally in our food supply. 
Animal-based foods and plants vary in their ability to absorb 
and retain lithium.

Why Do We Need Lithium In Our Diets?

Lithium’s nutritional importance as a trace element has long 
been suspected by researchers.  Several research studies 
have confirmed that link between high levels of lithium in tap 
water and low incidences of  suicides, admissions to mental 
hospitals, murders and rapes.

In  1971, a Texas biochemist named Dr. Earl Dawson noticed 
that the murder and suicide rates around El Paso were 
significantly lower than the rest of the state. After 
investigation, he discovered that the lower rates of suicide, 
murder and admissions to mental hospitals were linked to 
the high levels of lithium found in El Paso’s water supply.   

Other research studies from around the world reached 
similar results. A study from the University of Oita in Japan 
found that low lithium levels were associated with increases 
in rates of suicide and depression.  The researchers 
examined the natural lithium levels in the tap water of 18 
communities south of Japan. They then examined the suicide 
rates in the 18 communities.  They found that suicide rates 
were lowest in those areas with the highest concentrations 
of lithium in their tap water.  As they concluded, “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 was once used as a key ingredient in a soft drink 
invented in 1929 by Charles Leipe Grigg, an American from 
Price Branch, Missouri. He initially called his drink “Bib-Label 
Lithiated Lemon-Lime Sodas”. He later changed the name to 
” 7 Up Lithiated Lemon-Lime” .

The “7” in the name comes from the number 7, which is the 
atomic mass of lithium. He called his drink 7-Up, presumably 
because of the mysterious ability of lithium to elevate the 
mood. Later, lithium was removed from the manufacturing 
process and “lithiated from the name of the soda, but the “7 
-Up” part of the name stuck.

Today, lithium is recommended as a treatment for several 
emotional and mental disorders, most notably bipolar 
disorder. (Read more about foods that help bipolar disorder.)

Lithium May Help Alzheimer’s

Three research studies in 1999 and 2000 from Wayne State 
University of Medicine found that low levels of lithium used 
to treat manic depression were also effective in protecting 
the brain against Alzheimer’s disease. A key protein needed 
to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s is Bc1-2 (related to 
the B-cell lymphoma/ leukemia-2 gene). Lithium is the first 
substance found to increase the concentration of Bc1-2 in 
brains tissue.

Alzheimer’s is characterized by the existence of 
neurofibrillary “tangles” in the brain. These tangles are 
enabled by a destructive protein called glycogen synthase 
kinase 3b (GSK-3b). Lithium has been found to decrease the 
supply of destructive GSK-3b in brain tissue.

The Wayne State researchers also found that the gray matter 
of patients treated with lithium over time grew by 
approximately 3%, regenerating even after loss of brain cells 
due to injury or disease. (Read more about the ideal diet to 
fight Alzheimer’s disease.)

And in 2011, scientists from Germany and Japan published a 
report (“Low-dose lithium uptake promotes longevity in 
humans and metazoans”) which makes the case that 
populations exposed to lithium in their water actually end up 
living longer.

Lithium-Rich Foods

Animal-derived foods contain more lithium than plant foods, 
as a general matter. Eggs and milk contain the highest 
concentrations of lithium. Among plants, lithium is retained 
most easily in foods of the nightshade family of plants, which 
include tomatoes and cucumbers and mushrooms. Seaweed 
and kelp often contain high levels of lithium.

Food                          Lithium Content (micrograms per kg )
Milk                                7533
Eggs                               7373
Pork                               3844
Beef                               3428
Poultry                           2379
Soft Cheese                    2276
Herring                           1734
Butter                             1070

Tomatoes                       6707
Mushrooms                    5788
Cucumbers                     5017
Red Cabbage                  3579
Cauliflower                     3462
Kohlrabi                         2966
Asparagus                      2217
White Cabbage               1874
Potatoes                        1592
Apples                           1449
Bananas                         383

Black Tea                        3737
Paprika                           2316
Marjoram                        2289
Cocoa                             1728
Cinnamon                       1046
Coffee                             874

Instant Soups                 2513
Rice                                1260
Wheat Flour                    905
Rusk                               935
Toasted Bread                819
Barley                             995
Lentils                            748
Vanilla Pudding              639
Noodles                          628
Semolina                        538
Honey                             527
Bread Rolls                     317
Red Wine                        329
White Wine                     305
Pilsner                            296
Sugar                             199
Coca-Cola                       122
Brandy                            85

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