Whats in your water

We’re not popping government-issued Soma tablets yet, but a new study out of Japan suggests a decidedly Brave New World approach to mental health.

Researchers at Oita University compared lithium levels in 18 different urban tap water sources. The lithium levels ranged between 0.7µg/l (micrograms per litre) and 59µg/l, which, for those unfamiliar with all-things alkali metal, is low (but really, any level of lithium in drinking water seems a little too high). By checking regional suicide rates against the data, researchers concluded that “significantly lower” rates were associated with higher levels of lithium.

“Our study suggests that very low levels of lithium in drinking water can lower the risk of suicide. Very low levels may possess an antisuicidal effect.”

Lithium is naturally occurring in food and water, and is used in batteries, as an industrial lubricant and in airplane parts, thanks to its ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Very high doses of the metal are also used to treat mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and mania.

Professionals in the psychiatric field seemed to react positively to the Japanese study. One Vancouver-based psychiatrist went so far as to suggest “large-scale trials” of adding lithium to drinking water supplies, citing “benefits to community mental health.”

I’m inclined to hope that my own water supplies stay low-lithium for now. First, consider the side effects of lithium-based meds: muscle tremors, bone loss, kidney damage and seizures. Second, researchers have only shown correlation, but to show causation, large groups of test subjects would have to be exposed to lithium tainted water over a number of years, hardly a study that people are lining up to participate in. Third, I’d rather not have my water supply interfering with my right to brood.