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Lithium Orotate & Other Nootropics for Mood & Depression
The last couple of months has certainly put a spotlight on a pandemic (not the one you think) that is rampant in our modern society - Depression. Mood disorders. Plain ‘ol feeling sad. Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one, lost a job or just miss your social connections. Perhaps you’ve been struggling with depression for years, or you’re someone who suffers from “bouts” of depression, where a week or two in a year just feel so much bluer than any other time.
Whatever the reason, we’ve seen record highs of antidepressants being prescribed by doctors. While there is absolutely a time and a place for these, there is also a massive movement towards regulating depression and mood with alternative treatments. These include the likes of talk therapy, meditation, breathing practices & relying on natural remedies to restore balance and calm and lift the mood.
Antidepressants are designed to alter the functioning of your neurotransmitters in a particular way. You may be familiar with the terms like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). As a result, many people are hesitant to use antidepressants due to well-documented side effects, changes in brain chemistry and studies showing what the long-term effects of these drugs could be.
The good news is that there are numerous natural alternatives and large studies are showing that they might well be as effective or more effective than the chemical versions.
Nootropics: Why Do They Work?
Nootropics are natural (rarely synthetic) substances that improve cognitive performance (i.e. they have an impact on the brain) that have been around for centuries. They work by increasing mental functions such as memory, creativity, motivation and attention. They are, by definition, non-toxic and neuroprotective.
Read More: What are Nootropics?
Lithium as a Nootropic
It’s a real pity that people think of lithium as a substance exclusively for people with bipolar syndrome. While it is an absolute lifesaver for people with bipolar disorder, severe depression or mania, it has previously been overlooked as useful for anything else. In fact, when you mention lithium, eyebrows are often raised. For some reason, people view it as a scary substance!
Think back to the periodic table of elements that you might have come across in high school – lithium is a normal, natural trace element (in the same family as sodium & potassium). Luckily, lithium has recently become one of the new darlings of the nootropic industry, and with good reason.
The difference between lithium as a nootropic/supplement and as a medication for bipolar syndrome is the DOSE. For mental illness or bipolar syndrome, you require a super pharmacological dose, anything from 300mg to 1,800mg.
As mentioned, lithium is not some scary science experiment, it is a naturally occurring trace element that is found in nature, particularly in spring water, in quantities of 1-5mg. We also find it in many foods, but you’d have to eat 30 tomatoes to get 15mg of lithium in a day!
What is really interesting is that numerous studies show that in communities where there are higher levels of lithium in the groundwater, there is a very strong correlation to lower rates of suicide and violence. It is a pity that lithium is inadvertently filtered out of water because it means that we need to either get enough lithium through food (challenging) or supplement. It is something which our bodies require, especially for mood regulation.
Remember the soda called 7UP? When it first came out, it was called lithiated lemon lime soda (sexy name hey?), but the slogan was “it takes the ouch out of the grouch”! It actually had a bit of a nootropic effect. Lithium’s atomic weight on that periodic table you might remember is 6.9, hence the name of the soda, 6.9 rounded up to is 7UP! Lithium was removed from 7UP in 1950, but its benefits remain indisputable.
OK, so we know that lithium is perfectly safe in low doses (anything up to 15mg/day). But why is it so important? Two reasons: the neuroprotective effect (protects our brains) and secondly as a mood-enhancer, even for low-grade depression.
- Firstly, the neuroprotective effect: I supplement daily with Lithium Orotate (a salt with orotate which is naturally occurring in the body and in my view the best supplemental form of lithium). There are many studies in regular mainstream medical journals about lithium and its neuroprotective effect. Studies have shown that where an animal was “treated” with lithium, it had significantly less neuronal damage if it subsequently got exposed to toxins or suffered a stroke. Human studies in adults over 55 years by the Wayne State University showed that lithium induced the formation of around 3% brand-new brain cells. 3% is massive in this context, especially for people over 55%! Lithium protects neurons against glutamate toxicity and therefore shows massive potential for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease. As Dr Jonathan Wright says, if you want to keep your marbles for as long as possible, keep your eye on lithium research!
- Secondly, the impact on mood: not only do studies show that alcoholics who take lithium have reduced cravings, but people who say they get depressed on and off for no reason state that supplementing in low doses with lithium has changed their lives. They become more social, talk more easily and sleep far better. It is more and more being used as a tool in modern psychiatry and shows massive potential for the treatment of low-grade depression. There is an established body of research which supports lithium as a medication for treating depression, especially given that it may be protective against future occurrences of depression. Anna Fels, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell states that these studies provide “very suggestive evidence that it’s useful in terms of reducing impulsivity, irritability, suicidality”. Her patients typically report feeling less depressed and anxious.
If you’re interested in reading more on lithium, James M Greenblatt & Kayla Grossman have a wonderful book called “Nutritional Lithium: A Cinderella Story” which is well worth reading.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Lithium Orotate
More Rockstar Mood-Enhancing Nootropics
There are some wonderful, natural substances that can assist with lifting our moods and enhancing our cognitive performance. Most of these act on our neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in our brains), like dopamine and serotonin.
A tropical bean native to Africa, India and China, Mucuna Pruriens contains an amino acid called L-dopa, which is required for your brain to produce dopamine. Research shows that it can actually boost dopamine in humans (as well as or better than certain medications for Parkinson’s). Studies have shown that it has an antidepressant effect due to this ability to increase dopamine.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Mucuna Pruriens 98% Extract
Phenibut stimulates dopamine and serotonin in the prefrontal cortex and can therefore improve mood which leads to feelings of happiness, anxiety relief and even a reduction in tension headaches. Studies also show that it has a calming effect in humans, which leads to lower stress and tension.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Phenibut
To understand what uridine is requires an understanding of nucleotides (building blocks of nucleic acids), RNA and DNA. But what is useful to know is that it can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters (dopamine again!), which assists with stabilising mood and anxiety. It is a commonly known nootropic for natural sleep promotion.
Shop Here: NeuroActive Uridine Monophosphate(UMP)
A potent compound known for relieving depression, improving mood and promoting cognition, including memory. It also promotes dopamine, serotonin and melatonin. Studies show that it is also efficacious as an antidepressant.
Ginkgo Biloba is a rather famous plant that hails from China. Studies suggest that this plant is able to reduce oxidative stress, which in turn boosts dopamine secretion. Many anecdotal reports also point to Ginkgo Biloba as being a very effective nootropic for memory and mood enhancement.
Sticking with the theme, curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) is also associated with the release of dopamine. There are even studies showing that 1g of curcumin has similar effects as that of Prozac for mood enhancement!
Shop Here: NeuroActive Curcumin Plus
An amino acid that is a precursor (a substance from which another is formed) of dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline (all neurotransmitters). Its most bioavailable form is N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine (NALT). Research shows that NALT can boost mental energy levels, improve stress levels and promote focus.
Shop Here: NeuroActive N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine(NALT)
Another darling of the wellness industry, magnesium has overwhelming scientific research backing its importance for human health and wellness, particularly as it relates to supporting our neurons and its ability to aid with sleep and improve attention. Magnesium and its anti-depressant qualities are still not fully understood, and research is limited to animal studies, but a magnesium deficiency has been shown to correlate to lower dopamine levels.
-Green Tea & L-Theanine-
L-Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid which has been shown to be able to cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB), so it can directly modulate serotonin and dopamine, allowing it to have calming effects and improve cognition. It’s even been suggested that it can bring about changes in alpha brain wave activity (state of being awake and relaxed).
Green tea contains L-Theanine and studies suggest that frequent consumption increases dopamine production and brings about lower rates of depressive symptoms.
Yup, coffee and teas that contain caffeine can also enhance the release of dopamine and boost cognitive performance. Take care to source quality coffee/teas and don’t overdo it on quantity as you’ll end up with the opposite effect!
Shop Here: Kimera Koffee
Ginsenosides are a component of ginseng and can boost an increase of dopamine in the brain. This root has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to enhance cognition, which includes mood and memory and remains a wildly popular nootropic to this day, rightly so!
Shop Here: NeuroActive Panax Ginseng Extract
Rhodiola Rosea (the golden root) is an adaptogen because it can restore normal balance to your body following a stressful event. If you’re someone who constantly feels burnt-out, this may be the nootropic for you! Added benefit: it increases mental energy and focus!
Shop Here: NeuroActive Rhodiola Rosea
Research demonstrates ashwagandha’s anxiolytic effect, which means it has the ability to reduce anxiety, especially for people with psychological disorders. It is showing great potential for the treatment of panic disorders and depression.
Shop Here: NeuroActive KSM-66 Ashwagandha Extract
Do any of these nootropics really work?
As a final thought: life is a wonderful, exciting, beautiful place. But life can also bring its challenges and heartbreaks. Its all about how you navigate the storm. While nootropics are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, the nootropics that I’ve listed here are some of the best nootropics for your mood and brain health and have been shown to have a tremendous impact on cognitive performance and mental health. I think these can be a wonderful addition to a healthy lifestyle and for restoring balance and calm to our world.
This information does not serve as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is for informational purposes only and does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the different compounds. Always consult your doctor first when making any changes to medication or supplementation, especially when experiencing major mood challenges like depression, stress and anxiety.
- Thea is the founder of Neolaia – Biohacking SA and passionate about all things biohacking, functional medicine, holistic and ancestral wellness. She enjoys the occasional triathlon, is fanatic about yoga and the gym and loves n=1 biohacking experiments more than anything else! Learning about the latest in scientific research for health and wellness and applying this knowledge is what makes her happiest!