INDUSTRY BULLETIN: The Health Benefits of Lithium

October 2, 2017

With all the attention being given to lithium as a critical material in energy storage technology, other important applications of lithium are being overlooked. One of these is the market for lithium in medical applications and health products. Evidence has accumulated suggesting that relatively small doses of lithium can have significant beneficial health effects.

Medical applications are the sixth-largest demand market for lithium, making up 4.0% of global lithium demand in 2015 (Deutsche Bank) and it is included on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicine. The list presents the most efficacious, safe and cost–effective medicines for priority conditions. Lithium carbonate is listed as a safe prescription medicine for use in treating bipolar disorders. Lithium is also used to treat depression, schizophrenia, disorders of impulse control and certain mental illnesses in children.

Lithium occurs naturally in groundwater in many parts of the world in very low concentrations that can range from undetectable to around 0.170 milligrams per liter. Low concentrations of lithium in drinking water appear to decrease suicide rates significantly and may even promote brain health and improve mood. In a recent review of epidemiological studies of lithium in drinking water, it was reported that 9 out of 11 studies found an association between higher levels of lithium in local water and “beneficial clinical, behavioural, legal and medical outcomes” in the geographical area.

More recently, studies suggest there could be a correlation between lithium ingestion and lowered risk of dementia. Scientists at the University of Copenhagen compared dementia rates to the natural quantities of lithium in water for more than 800,000 people in Denmark. They found that in places where lithium was highest, the dementia rate fell by 17 per cent compared to those with the lowest levels. Although researchers warn that the link could be due to other environmental factors, they suggest it is worth investigating whether adding lithium to drinking water could be an inexpensive way of decreasing the incidence of dementia.

The use of trace amounts of lithium has been known for its curative powers for centuries. Lithia Springs in Georgia has naturally lithium-enriched water and appears to have been an ancient Native American sacred site. By the late 19th century, Lithia Springs was a famous health destination. Similarly, at the site of Avalon Advanced Materials’ Separation Rapids Lithium Project in northwestern Ontario, traditional knowledge shared by the elders of the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations revealed that the area was known to their ancestors for its healing powers. In fact, it was called “Na na dawe waugh bic” in the Ojibway language, which translated means “the healing rock.”

Lithium drinks were in high demand for their reputed health-giving properties in the early 20th century, so much so that the element was added to commercial drinks. For example, 7-Up contained lithium citrate right up until 1950. In fact, it’s been suggested that the 7 in 7-Up refers to the atomic mass of the lithium. (Maybe the “Up” referred to mood?). Bottled water sourced from springs with naturally elevated levels of lithium have been marketed under brand names such as “Happy Water®”, as discussion about adding lithium to tap water grows.

The evidence for low concentrations of lithium having health benefits is now well-established. While this market may be a relatively small contributor to the overall growth in demand for lithium, it is one more important application of this remarkable element.

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About Avalon Advanced Materials Inc.

Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. is a Canadian mineral development company specializing in niche market metals and minerals with growing demand in new technology. The Company has three advanced stage projects, all 100%-owned, providing investors with exposure to lithium, tin and indium, as well as rare earth elements, tantalum, niobium, and zirconium. Avalon is currently focusing on its Separation Rapids Lithium Project, Kenora, ON and its East Kemptville Tin-Indium Project, Yarmouth, NS. Social responsibility and environmental stewardship are corporate cornerstones.