It’s a well-known fact that drinking plenty of water is an effective way to stay healthy, but recent research suggests that it may be able to do more than that.
Researchers in Denmark claim that the lithium present in tap water could have the potential to prevent the onset of the disease, thus saving thousands of potential elderly people who are at risk.
Looking at Lithium
Lithium is a soft silver-white looking metal that is found in most water supplies due to the pipes carrying the water containing small amounts of the substance.
A study conducted in Denmark looked at over 70,000 individuals with dementia alongside 700,000 unaffected. Data was collected about where they lived and the corresponding lithium levels in the water supply in each area.
People who drank tap water containing between two to five micrograms per litre were found to not receive any benefits in preventing dementia.
However, for those whose water supply exceeded this amount, the risk of developing the disease was found to decrease to up to 20% in those drinking water with more than 15 micrograms per litre.
Potential Health Benefits
“This study is encouraging and suggests the research on lithium and Alzheimer’s is going in the right direction,” said Simon Lovestone, Professor of Translational Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.
Professor Lovestone noted that lithium is used in some forms of drugs to treat conditions such as bipolar disorder, but these drugs contain much higher amounts than those found in tap water.
A typical lithium drug to treat bipolar disorder contains more than 1000 times the amount of the substance than that found in tap water.
As such, increasing the lithium amount in people’s tap water is not a feasible course of action, Professor Lovestone says.
“The results of this study do not suggest that we should add lithium to water supplies to combat dementia, and it’s important to remember that the lithium levels in water are usually 10-50 micrograms per litre whereas when used as a drug it’s usually 500-1500 mg/day,” he said.
Looking to The Future
Instead, Professor Lovestone says studies should continue to see if small amounts of lithium could be given as a form of preventive medication rather than as a type of treatment to be used alongside various forms of dementia therapy.
Other experts seem to agree. Allan Young, Professor of Mood Disorders, King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience says that even with the current evidence, if found to be proven further with additional studies, it could have a massive positive effect on the population.
“At a population level, the effects would be considerable as even if lithium only delayed the onset of dementia by months for each person, over the nation that would amount to a lot of healthier months,” he said.
“Although some may say that lithium should be ‘added to the water’ the first step might be to conduct clinical trials to examine the preventative effects of lithium first.”