From time to time someone provokes outrage by suggesting that lithium be added to public water supplies (and here).

The rational for this proposal is that lithium in very small amounts appears to have many public health and social benefits including better mental health and less crime.

Studies in Texas, central Japan and throughout Austria have shown a negative relationship between suicide rate and the amount of lithium naturally present in public water supplies.

In Texas, an inverse relationship was observed between lithium in drinking water and crime, particularly violent crime.

A study conducted in North Carolina suggested a negative  relationship between community drinking water lithium content and mental hospital admission rates.

Double-blind clinical studies have shown trace lithium to be mildly effective in improving the mood of drug users undergoing withdrawal.

Research has shown that lithium reduces violence of incarcerated criminals, retards the development of senile dementia, increases brain mass, and enhances longevity in man and other animals.

If all these benefits were attributable to an element such as calcium, which as a carbonate mainly accounts for the hardness of water, most people would likely support its addition to public water supplies.

However, lithium is widely known as an anti-mania drug, capable of reducing the demented to a condition of docility. Naturally, therefore, calls for lithium supplementation of drinking water are interpreted by many as evidence of a plot to enslave the population.

What is not generally recognized is that the potential benefits of lithium to the population at large are attributed to amounts of the element in the range of 50 to 100 millionths of a gram per day, whereas a therapeutic dose of lithium for the treatment of mania is several thousand times as much, and close to the threshold for toxicity.

But if trace amounts of lithium represent no hazard to the public, their addition to the water supply is nevertheless questionable in the present state of knowledge, despite the potential benefits.

Research in this field will not be undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry because lithium cannot be patented. What is needed, therefore, is a broad-ranging program of publicly funded research to evaluate claims that have been made concerning the role of lithium in human nutrition and health.

In the meantime, those interested in experimenting with lithium as a nutritional supplement can drink lithium-rich mineral waters such as Catalan Vichy (1.3 mg of lithium per liter), enjoyed by the Romans more than two thousand years ago, EDT Rocky Mountain Lithia Water (0.66 mg of lithium per liter) or San Pellegrino water (0.2 mg of lithium per liter).

See also:
Medically Induced Mental Illness