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Longevity Briefs: Can A Lithium Pill A Day Keep Alzheimer’s Away?

Posted on 27 April 2021

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: The metal lithium, while highly toxic at sufficient doses, has been suggested to have various protective effects on the brain. This is linked to its ability to boost levels of certain enzymes and other large molecules – in particular the protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Lithium also modulates certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, can thereby ‘balance out’ the highs and lows of mood, and is a life-saving drug in the treatment of severe bipolar disorder. Since lithium inhibits proteins involved in the formation of amyloid plaques, could extremely small doses of lithium (AKA microdoses) be beneficial in patients with Alzheimer’s disease?

Lithium - Osmosis

What did the researchers do: In this study, researchers evaluated the effect of a daily dose of 300 micrograms (hundreds of times lower than the dose used for mood disorders) administered to Alzheimer’s disease patients for 15 months. Their cognitive function was then tested periodically and compared to an untreated control group.

Key takeaway(s) from this research: Starting 3 months after treatment began, patients given lithium performed significantly better in cognitive tests than the control group, and this difference increased progressively throughout the study period.

The use of lithium to treat Alzheimer’s disease is controversial, as studies vary greatly in their methodology, dosing and so on, while the toxicity of regular lithium doses make it impractical for long-term treatment. Lithium microdosing, however, may have the potential to significantly reduce cognitive decline while negating or minimising harmful side effects.

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