Lithium, FDA-approved to treat bipolar disorder (BD), has been USED for 60 years. However, lithium protects and benefits the central nervous system, and there are even indications that lithium can treat other neurodegenerative diseases. Patients with BD who take lithium may experience a reduction of grey matter loss usually seen with that disease.
Lithium, also, improves behavior and cognition deficits in studies of such neurodegenerative diseases as stroke, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), fragile X syndrome, cerebellar degeneration, spinal cord injury, Huntington’s chorea, Alzheimer’s dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
In strokes, which are caused by interruption of circulation to the brain, long-term lithium use has been shown to reduce the brain damage and the neurological symptoms. Lithium improves motor neuron function and slows disease progression in an animal form of ALS. For example, lithium in an animal model of multiple sclerosis shows a marked reduction in loss of protective myelin from the nerves.
Lithium promotes chemical pathways which increase cell survival, promotes calcium stability and reduces autophagy. (Autophagy is a process within a cell by which the proteins become degraded in reaction to any stress.) Therapeutic doses of lithium can protect nerve cells and prevent cell death.
Long term treatment with lithium increases neurogenesis (the growth of new nerve tissues). Lithium alters certain chemical signals to protect the survival of the cells, such as neurons. As well, lithium can alter the flow of calcium through cell walls and can block apoptosis.
CONCLUSION: Lithium has therapeutic neuroprotective effects in a wide variety of neurodegenerative diseases. It has been shown to be safe in humans, and is described as being mood-stabilizing, neurogenetic, neurotrophic, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory.
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