Professor Memon added: “Next steps might include testing this hypothesis by randomised community trials of lithium supplementation of the water supply, particularly in communities (or settings) with demonstrated high prevalence of mental health conditions, violent criminal behaviour, chronic substance abuse and risk of suicide. This may provide further evidence to support the hypothesis that lithium could be used at the community level to reduce or combat the risk of these conditions.”
Professor Carmine Pariante from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, commented: “This study shows that the boundaries between medication and nutritional interventions are not as rigid as we used to think, opening up the possibility of new treatments that span both domains. More knowledge of the beneficial properties of lithium and its role in regulating brain function can lead to a deeper understanding of mental illness and improve the wellbeing of patients with depression and other mental health problems.”
The study involved systematic review and meta-analysis of all previous studies on the subject – conducted in Austria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, UK, Japan and USA – which correlated naturally occurring lithium levels in drinking water samples and suicide rates in 1,286 regions/counties/cities in these countries.
The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. It was supported by BSMS, and part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
You can read the study in the British Journal of Psychiatry.