Older husband and wife walking along the beach

Lithium Supplements: Powerful Mind Support

When you hear the word "lithium," what comes to mind? Nirvana's 1991 hit? Or perhaps a scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? Lithium first hit the scene in the mid-19th century but soon faded away—that is, until John Cade reintroduced it to help support mental health around 1949. And in 1970, the U.S. became the 50th country to allow lithium in the marketplace.

Perhaps because of its colorful history, there's a misconception that lithium's only benefit is for mood—something you take to keep an even keel.

But certain types of lithium, in much smaller doses, actually are available as supplements—and they are used for very different reasons than "old school" lithium. And while the dosages of lithium are tiny, the potential benefits of lithium supplements are not exactly minor (unless you consider brain health and longevity inconsequential!).

Let's dive into what lithium is, how it works, and in what ways lithium supplements might benefit you.

What are the benefits of lithium?

Lithium helps seniors with memory and focus

In its simplest form, lithium is an element found in drinking water, originating from rocks and subsoil. Why might you consider adding it to your other healthy lifestyle habits? It turns out that lithium orotate may benefit our brain health more than we ever thought. (Orotate is the most common form of lithium used in supplements—more on that in a minute!)

As we all know, trace mineral lithium has been used to support mood. As a supplement, however, lithium orotate (and other forms of this mineral) falls under the umbrella category of nootropics. Nootropics have a reputation for boosting mental focus and attention.

In addition to helping to support cognition, lithium also may play a role in longevity. It can support a healthy brain as you age. More specifically, this is because lithium can inhibit the enzyme GSK-3 (official name: glycogen synthase kinase-3) in your brain and other organs. The activity of this enzyme can cause your tissues—and your body as a whole—to age. When you consume lithium, it may help slow all of this down.

In fact, if you're over the age of 60, you might consider starting to take a low-dose oral lithium supplement even as a proactive measure. Let's get into that next.

What are lithium supplements?

Lithium is a trace mineral, and supplements will contain various concentrations of it. For example, Life Extension's brain health supplements include a lithium supplement formulated with a dose of 1,000 mcg (or 1 mg) of lithium from lithium orotate. Lithium orotate supports cognitive health and function at the cellular level, encourages a natural process for clearing proteins from the brain, supports already-healthy glucose levels in the brain, and might even help to maintain DNA health and longevity.

Lithium orotate vs. other forms of lithium

Lithium orotate isn't the only type of lithium you can get as a supplement—although, if a supplement simply says "lithium" on its label, then it's most likely referring to a low dose of lithium orotate. Orotate is technically a salt that comes from orotic acid. Orotic acid is used as a binder in mineral supplements. Lithium aspartate is derived from aspartic acid, which is an amino acid. There's also lithium citrate, which is a chemical compound of lithium and citric acid.

The type of lithium you take (and the dose you go with) will depend on your needs, goals, and the guidance of your healthcare professional. For example, some research suggests that lithium orotate might be more effective at a lower dosage (since it can penetrate your body's cells more easily) compared to some other forms. This is why you might find low-dose lithium orotate supplements in greater abundance compared to their counterparts.

Pro tip: If you've heard about lithium carbonate, perhaps you're wondering what that is. The word carbonate means it's built with carbon and oxygen. Lithium carbonate is not a supplement, does not have the same use case or benefits, and must be prescribed by a healthcare professional.

What to look for when choosing a lithium supplement

As always, we recommend that you look into how a brand sources its ingredients, along with what additional ingredients appear in their supplement. You also want to confirm what type of lithium is in the supplement and ensure that you are indeed micro-dosing with it. With dosages, more of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing, and high doses of lithium should only be administered under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional.

Young woman taking lithium supplement to support brain health

How to take lithium supplements

Lithium orotate supplements often come in the form of capsules or tablets. Swallow them whole, with a glass of water, without chewing them. You can take them with or without food. While you can take your supplement day or night, people commonly take it at night. Be sure to only take the dose listed on the product label. If you skip a dose, just take your usual dosage the following day.

Explore Our Best Brain Health Supplements

Shop Now

How To Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age

Supplementing with lithium orotate certainly is a good starting point for encouraging healthy thinking well into your golden years—but it's not the only way to nurture your noggin. Follow these tips to keep your brain in the game:

  • Eat foods on the MIND diet

    This brain-healthy diet includes vitamin-packed, antioxidant-rich, nutrient-dense foods while steering followers away from cheese and highly processed foods. (As an added bonus, many of these foods are also low-fat, low-calorie and low-sodium!)
  • Exercise

    —Moving your body regularly benefits not only your heart, weight and muscles but also boosts your brain.
  • Check in with your doctor regularly

    —Being proactive is a great way to identify any cognitive health needs before they turn into something to really worry about! Lab testing can also help.
  • Manage your stress

    —When you feel stressed, it's hard to think clearly. Try meditation, yoga or journaling.
  • Get enough sleep

    —That means quality and quantity. A well-rested brain can help you think and remember.

Other cognitive supplements for aging adults

Aside from lithium orotate, other supplements that might help support your healthy cognitive function include certain forms of vitamin B (including B12 or folate/folic acid) and pregnenolone.

Lithium also has a huge impact when combined with proline-rich polypeptide—a "mother's milk" extract derived from colostrum. (Colostrum is the first milk a woman's body produces during her pregnancy.) And of course, no brain-health regimen would be complete without omega-3 fatty acids. Another great option is magnesium L-threonate, which, unlike other forms of magnesium, more easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.

Foods that contain lithium

Potatoes and tomatoes contain lithium

If you're looking to boost your lithium orotate levels with dietary choices, certain foods and spices contain it. These include:

  • Potatoes
  • Certain mineral waters that are lithium-enriched
  • Milk
  • Tomatoes
  • Cereal
  • Eggs
  • Cabbage
  • Nutmeg
  • Cumin
  • Coriander seeds

And as we mentioned earlier, elemental lithium might be present in your drinking water. However, the amount at which it occurs will depend on your geographic location. Furthermore, there are only small amounts of this trace mineral, and possibly even less if your water is filtered or distilled.

Do keep in mind that very often, it's difficult to get what you need from food alone—the amount of lithium is just too small to experience its benefits (especially if you only eat foods with decent lithium levels a few days out of every month!). This is why supplementation can be so beneficial for your overall physical and mental health. Your body needs that extra dose (even if it is a small dose!) to really deliver results.

Low-dose lithium supplements are an excellent way to support your overall cognitive function. They could even help you live a longer and more fulfilling life. Ask your healthcare provider if this is the right dietary supplement for you!

Who shouldn’t take low-dose lithium?

Low-dose lithium is generally well-tolerated long term. If you are unsure whether you should take lithium orotate supplements, or have a question about dose recommendations, ask your doctor or another healthcare professional. Pro tip: You can take a blood test to check your lithium levels.

Psst! Curious about what other supplements might boost your brain health? Take our quiz and find out.

About the Author: Megan Grant has a degree in communications from University of Michigan. She has been writing professionally for 15 years, with a focus on nutrition, fitness, and general health. A lifelong competitive athlete, she's fascinated by how the human body responds to food and movement.


Memory & Cognition Favorite