Lithium Helps You Get Up in the Morning
This article claims as advance in the understanding of why lithium helps protect the brain. It turns out that it’s at least partially due to forcing sleep. Insufficient sleep is extremely harmful:
by blocking the enzyme known as glycogen synthase kinase, or GSK3, lithium boosts the master clock’s strength threefold.
Understanding this mechanism, Meng says, companies are already developing drugs that can block GSK3, but which would be unlikely to trigger lithium’s unwelcome effects such as nausea, dry mouth, tremor, weakness and weight gain.
Now that a mechanism is known, perhaps new patentable synthetics that target just that mechanism, but with slightly different side effects, can provide a $billions cash cow. Lithium was probably underprescribed by the medical industry due to lack of financial incentive.
I’d started low dose (1mg/day) lithium on the basis of a literature review by Scott Siskind on LessWrong and couldn’t tell if it was only another nice multivitamin-like placebo, but I may have been sleeping and waking slightly better. Side effects were completely nonexistent for me at 1mg/day. An ordinary diet already supplies .5-3mg/day, though:
In 1985, the EPA, estimated that the daily lithium consumption for a 154 lb. adult ranges from 650 to 3,100 micrograms
Lithium definitely decreases suicides. That’s something. There are other claims of decent strength: http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2010/07/lithium-and-inflammation.html and http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2011/02/lithium-and-longevity.html.
It’s suspicious to me when a medicine does so many seemingly different good things. But since the mechanism at least involves sleep, which is central, it’s plausible. Also, there are other medicines (aspirin) that really do have several good effects (I assume because excess inflammation can be harmful in many different ways). It’s suspicious to me when something has many good effects (speeds/slows several different natural chemical reactions) and no bad effects. I’d expect most tweaks to be only situationally good, or else it’s just an accident that evolution hasn’t stumbled upon and widely disseminated the capability to produce something analogous to the drug.