The widespread occurrence of lithium in plants results in a wide, although low-level, distribution of lithium in animals. Lithium salts have complex effects when absorbed into the body. They are not highly toxic, although high levels can be fatal. The use of lithium salts and mineral water containing them to treat gout (unsuccessfully) and to ward off depression (successfully) dates to the last half of the 19th century but fell into medical disrepute in the early 20th century.
New research indicates that consuming lithium-rich drinking water may be one cause of autism.
The use of lithium carbonate to treat manic-depression (also known as bipolar disorder) was demonstrated clinically in 1954. Fears about lithium toxicity delayed its approval for many years, but it is now the major drug for the treatment of manic episodes and for maintenance therapy in bipolar patients.
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