News Feature | October 31, 2013

Lithium In Drinking Water Linked To Suicide Prevention

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Some studies show that lithium in drinking water correlates with lower suicide rates. Last week, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna offered a theory as to why that is.

In an article published last week by the university, researcher Nestor Kapusta said high levels of lithium in the water may be an indicator that there are ample psychiatric resources in a given region. 

"Psychiatrists now predict that regions with high lithium prescribing rates may have a type of ‘cohort protection' in place," he said. 

In other words, those areas have "a high density of psychiatrists and high levels of prescribing could mean more lithium in the drinking water, which could also have a positive impact on untreated individuals," he said. 

Lithium in drinking water might also be having a positive impact on mental health, according to Kapusta. "The light metal lithium has been used in psychiatry for 60 years as a mood stabilizer and to prevent depression," he said. 

But it is too early to say it should be added to drinking water, he said. 

"Further research is definitely needed on this."

Kapusta explained that lithium gets into the water supply through the sewer system. "It is also excreted out of the body and enters the groundwater or is not filtered out by the sewage treatment plants," he said.

Drugs in water may have life-altering effects, Water Online reported

"Something fishy is going on in the water, and not just with the fish. Recent research suggests that exposure to Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in drinking water may subject humans, particularly males, to gender-morphing and other reproductive system alterations," the article said. 

The EPA, which offers some material on the topic, does not currently have regulations regarding the issue. But that could change.

"Though unregulated, PPCPs are on the EPA’s radar via the Third Contaminant Candidate List (CCL3) and the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) —precursors to possible regulatory action," Water Online said. 

The Associated Press published an investigation of the issue a few years, noting it was still largely unknown to the public. 

"A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans," the news service said.