(Image via nytimes.com)
A consultant psychiatrist last night called on Government to add lithium salts to the public water supply in a bid to lower the suicide rate and depression among the general population.
At a mental health forum on “Depression in Rural Ireland” in Ennistymon, Co Clare, Dr Moosajee Bhamjee said that “there is growing scientific evidence that adding trace amounts of the drug lithium to a water supply can lower rates of suicide and depression”.
That is the first two sentences from a December 2, 2011 Irish Times article. My first thought (I can be so positive sometimes) was “what could possibly go wrong”. Then I thought of how many times I’ve heard the joke “What is in the water.” One day the answer could be lithium.
Dr Bhamjee said: “A recent article in the British Journal of Psychiatry found the beneficial uses of lithium when it was added to the water supply in parts of Texas.”
So, I checked the British Journal of Psychiatry and the search brought up articles about adding lithium to the water supply as well as this article about the ‘high’ natural lithium content in the drinking water in parts of Texas and the lower rates of suicide and crimes those areas.
I understand why the doctor wants to do it and he claims that “a community would not get “hooked” on lithium “because the doses would be so small”. I know that fluoride is added to water and various foods are fortified with a variety of vitamins and minerals to help us. All that I could think about when I started reading the article is what happens if the wrong dose is added in the water. All drugs have side effects. This isn’t a drug that everyone needs. This isn’t a drug that works for everyone. Is adding it to the water that great a benefit compared to how it may affect some people. At what point would the lithium start interacting with other drugs that people take. And what about drugs that are in the public water supply because people flush their old prescriptions down their toilets. From the New York Times article Drugs Are in the Water. Does It Matter?:
Initial efforts concentrate on measuring what is getting into the nation’s surface and groundwater. The discharge of pharmaceutical residues from manufacturing plants is well documented and controlled, according to the E.P.A., but the contribution from individuals in sewage or septic systems “has been largely overlooked.”
And unlike pesticides, which are intentionally released in measured applications, or industrial discharges in air and water, whose effects have also been studied in relative detail, the environmental agency says, pharmaceutical residues pass unmeasured through wastewater treatment facilities that have not been designed to deal with them.
Many of the compounds in question break down quickly in the environment. In theory, that would lessen their potential to make trouble, were it not for the fact that many are in such wide use that they are constantly replenished in the water.
When I read articles such as these, I wonder how the cumulative effect of “a little bit of this” and “a little bit of that” in our drinking water is affecting us. Like any other chemical that we keep ingesting over time, some of us must be affected. I know I was wondering about that during the first few years I was sick and doctors couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting better. Repairs were being done in the lobby of the apartment building I lived in at the time I became sick. Who knows what we were breathing in as we walked past the work. My apartment faced a major highway that was a mile or two away from the building. Was something leaking from one of the trucks that went by each day. Did something cause my genes to mutate? Gene mutations can be hereditary or they can be acquired at some point in your life because something triggered the change. When you’re not able to get answers from the doctors, so many questions are racing through your mind.
So, what do you think? Do you think it’s a good idea to add lithium to the public water supply, do you think it could make that much of a difference and are the benefits greater than the risks?