New Lithium May Treat Bipolar Disorder Without Nasty Side Effects


There hasn’t been a new drug on the horizon for bipolar disorder in some time, but now there is.

Researchers are working on a new form of lithium that may be effective but without the toxicity of the current lithium.

Lithium carbonate has been useful in treating bipolar disorder for many years. It also produces serious side effects such as diarrhea, hand tremors, substantial weight gain, vomiting, and thyroid problems. No wonder many people with bipolar disorder choose to be noncompliant with this medication.

Carbonate vs Salicylate

The new lithium on the block is called lithium salicylate. Early research using rats indicates it may be more effective than its lithium predecessor. It produced steady lithium levels for two full days (48 hours) in rat research subjects—and without toxic side effects.

Lithium salicylate is a salt of lithium. It has a different molecular structure than lithium carbonate. The structural differences cause the body to absorb and distribute the two lithiums differently:

  1. The current carbonate form of lithium triggers rapid peaks of absorption followed by a swift decline in blood concentration.
  2. The new salicylate form of lithium smooths out the absorption rate and blood concentration drops slowly.

Problem (Hopefully) Solved

Although alternative drugs for treating bipolar disorder have been available, lithium carbonate is still considered by many professionals to be the most effective medication choice, but also one of the most problematic.

“Psychiatry has long struggled with the fact that, while lithium is highly effective for treating bipolar disorder, the narrow therapeutic window and side effect profile often makes lithium both difficult and sometimes dangerous to work with clinically,” said Dr. Todd Gould, bipolar expert at the University of Maryland.

The early clinical studies with lithium salicylate will naturally have to be followed by drug trials using humans. The researchers are hoping the steadier therapeutic levels—which means less frequent dosing—and reduction in side effects will prove as true for people as it did for rodents.

Photo by hang_in_there at flickr

Source: Science Daily


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