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Scientists have previously believed that the presence of the light metal lithium in drinking water was natural, as the chemical leached through rocks. But a new study suggests that at least some of the lithium in waterways is residue from prescribed anti-depressants and its presence may have a large-scale anti-depressent effect.
Lead researcher Nestor Kapusta, from the University Department of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy at the MedUni Vienna, believes that the presence of lithium in drinking water is contributing to lower suicide rates.
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Kapusta explained that over the past six decades, lithium has been commonly used as treatment for depression. It is not processed in the human body but is excreted, which means that it ends up in sewage systems and, from there, in wastewater treatment plants. In highly urbanized areas, with a high concentration of psychiatrists and patients, the concentration of lithium in water increases and has an effect on the untreated population as well, he said.
Recent analyses of tap water and groundwater in the United States found residue from a large number of medicines. Although concentration of lithium can have a potentially positive effect, Kapusta claimed that it would be wrong to assume that adding lithium to drinking water would be beneficial. Whether this is the case can only be determined through more research, he concluded.