Researchers from Rutgers University have recently published data suggesting that lithium may help reduce damage that can occur after a traumatic brain injury.   This drug, which has been used for decades to treat bipolar disorder, has also been used by integrative physicians to promote brain health.  This is based on population studies in which MRI measurements correlate increased levels of lithium in municipal drinking water with  thicker, healthier grey matter and even reduced risk of suicide.

The new in vitro study found that the toxic effects triggered by glutamate were reduced in cells exposed to lithium.  Animal studies also suggest that lithium can protect the brain.  While this is very early-stage evidence, it will likely lead to clinical trials using lithium in people with post-concussion syndrome.  It may also prove useful in other neurological disorders, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases in which glutamate toxicity is known to play a role.  While lithium does have side effects in the high doses used to treat bipolar disorder, the very low doses typically used to promote brain health involve very low risk of side-effects.

If clinical trials demonstrate its benefits, low-dose lithium may become widely accepted for treating brian disorders.  Based on our experience using it over the past few years, we think this may be another example of an old drug becoming the next big thing.