For the first time, scientists have developed a technique for measuring the concentration of lithium in the brain. To test the method, the researchers compared the levels of lithium in the brain tissue of people who had died of suicide due to natural causes and concluded that there was a link between lithium levels and mental health.
Although lithium is a vital component of batteries, it can also be used to treat bipolar disorder. Such drugs can stabilize the condition of people, but on the other hand, they become toxic by taking too much and harming patients.
Less than a year ago, researchers in a study noted that adding lithium to drinking water could reduce suicidal ideation and increase mental health.
However, scientists do not know how lithium works in the brain, and of course one of the main challenges for them was the inability to effectively measure the distribution of lithium in the brain because the concentration of natural lithium in the brain is very low. Researchers have now developed a technique for doing this.
This new technique, dubbed “NIK” by scientists, works by sinking a thin section of the brain into neutrons. Roman Grannhauser of the Faculty of Physics at the Technical University of Munich reports that lithium has a high neutron absorption capacity:
“A lithium isotope does a good job of absorbing neutrons. “This isotope is further decomposed into helium and tritium atoms.”
The detectors then measure the products of the decomposition so that they can obtain accurate data on the concentration of lithium in the sample. To test the technique, researchers took samples from 150 different parts of the dead. This allows researchers to get a complete three-dimensional picture of the distribution and concentration of lithium in the human brain.
The researchers used brain tissue from three dead people, one of whom died of suicide and the other two who died of natural causes and played a controlling role. The main goal of the researchers was to study the concentration of lithium in the gray and white matter of the brain.
According to Grenhauser, there was more lithium in the white matter of healthy people:
“We found that in healthy people, lithium was significantly higher in white matter than in gray matter. “In contrast to the patient who committed suicide, he experienced a balanced distribution of lithium between the gray matter and the white matter of his brain.”
The concentration of lithium in the white matter of the brain seems to promote mental health. In the past, similar results were obtained in animals.
Although we do not yet know how lithium affects human mental health, we are finding more and more evidence that this substance plays an important role in this regard. The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports.