Lithium As A Treatment For Bipolar Disorder

There are several mood disorders that affect people everywhere. One particularly debilitating disorder is bipolar disorder. This disorder is classified by changes of mood between depression and mania. What is particularly mind-boggling about this is that we do not know the exact cause of the swings, and therefore we do not have a particular target for a treatment. Scientists have isolated a few areas in which they believe to have an effect on this and have found a few antipsychotic drugs that although have severe side effects, have shown a slight improvement in patient health.

The most common of these drugs is lithium. Even though this drug is commonly prescribed for the disorder, the actual effect it has on the body is rather foggy. What scientists believe to be true is that lithium slows down the activity of IMPase in the body which in turn will slow down production of inositol and phosphate which are believed to have an effect on the chemical imbalances in bipolar patients.

When looking at this drug, it seems completely different than other drugs. It is a single element rather than some large branching molecule. The question we ask ourselves is how did scientists stumble upon lithium to treat bipolar disorder?

Originally lithium was believed to combine with uric acid and produce a solution that helped break down uric acid accumulation. This knowledge helped them treat diseases in the 19th century such as gout. Around the 1940s it was reasoned that a high sodium diet was responsible for hypertensive patients and that they would benefit from a salt free diet. This led to the production of lithium chloride as an alternative to table salt. This ended up being a failure causing several people to die and lithium salts were taken off the market.  Lithium was then ignored until 1949 when a group of scientists hypothesized that mania was caused by a normal body product circulating the body in excess. They found this product to be urea. They then made a solution of lithium urate and injected it into guinea pigs to see how much uric acid increased the toxicity of the urea. Although it did not have an effect on urea concentration, it did seem to have a calming effect on the guinea pigs and was believed that this was cause by the lithium. Since then it has been used as an effective medication for bipolar.

As you can see, bipolar disorder is very confusing disorder in which we do not know a lot about. As stated, lithium is currently the most popular medication and was originally discovered on accident when trying to establish how much urea was toxic in the body. For more information on this topic, visit

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