A new study reinforces previous works correlating the presence of natural lithium in public drinking water toward lower suicide rates. The research appeared in the British Journal of Psychiatry dated Monday, July 27.
The research team from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London collated studies around the world. Collected data showed that geographical areas whose public drinking water contained significantly higher concentrations of lithium also had relatively lower suicide rates.
BSMS Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine and lead author Professor Anjum Memon noted that over 800,000 people die from suicide around the world every year. He added that it is the leading cause of death for people aged 15-24 years old.
"It is promising that higher levels of trace lithium in drinking water may exert an anti-suicidal effect and have the potential to improve community mental health," Professor Memon commented.
The Magic Ion
Lithium is commonly found in nature as a soft, silvery-white metallic substance. Also known as the "magic ion," it has found widespread use as a pharmaceutical ingredient in the treatment of various mental health conditions. It is mostly used for the prevention and treatment of manic and depressive episodes. Lithium has also found uses for improving mood and mitigating suicide risks for people with mood disorders.
The element has also been found to reduce impulse and aggressive behaviors, helping people with violent and substance abuse tendencies.
Aside from its silvery-white metallic form, lithium is also found in trace amounts in most plant forms - vegetables, spices, grains, and more. It is also found in rocks and soil, often carried to natural water sources by weathering rocks and rainfall, ending up in public water supply reservoirs.
Lithium has been historically noted as having healing properties. In Douglas County, Georgia, the Lithia Springs have long been revered by Native Americans as a sacred spring, whose natural lithium-concentrated waters have been used as traditional medicine.
Previous Studies On Lithium's Anti-Suicidal Properties
Several independent studies from different parts of the world have established a positive correlation between the presence of lithium in drinking water to suicide incidents. In the June 2017 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a team from Denmark tracked the local adult population from 1991 to 2012.
Their study involved close to 4 million individuals 21 years old or older. It was equivalent to almost 67 million person-years covered by the study. Over 22 years, 14,151 individuals committed suicide or 0.38 percent of their study population. The suicide rate began from 29.7 per 100,000 person-years at the start of the study in 1991, down to 18.4 per 100,000 person-years by 2012.
However, monitoring other aspects of the study such as the time-weighted average (TWA) and stability of lithium levels present, applied to an individual-level register-based data, failed to establish links between lithium concentration and reduced suicide risks conclusively.
An earlier study in its fellow European country of Austria back in 2011 showed an inverse link between the two items. Published in the May 2011 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, a team from Cambridge University sampled 6,460 lithium measurements for the association to suicide rates per 100,000 population in all 99 districts of Austria. Their study found out that geographic regions with higher natural concentrations of lithium in drinking water have been associated with lower suicide mortality rates.