Bath Salts w/Lithium & Bipolar
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Q:  Bath Salts w/Lithium & Bipolar

I am just starting down the road to working with the diagnosis of  cyclothymia, and dread trying out the usual meds because my body is HIGHLY sensitive to all inputs and have never easily tolerated ANY prescription drug. Antidepressants have crashed me into long periods of chronic fatigue.

I'm thinking about trying out bath salts that contain lithium. Whenever I visited a hot springs I have visited in another state, I always felt much better, no matter how horrible I felt going in. I later saw the mineral composition of the water and noted it contained lithium. I've just found some bath salts that are modeled after natural springs, and contain lithium. It's not being promoted for mental health, but I want to try it. 

So here's the question: Have you heard of using bath salts containing lithium to treat cyclothymia or bipolar disorders?

Dear D' -- 
Haven't heard of that. It does raise the interesting question: how much lithium might someone absorb from sitting in a tub with lithium? Surprisingly, there happens to be a study on that. Well, it's from a company that I presume makes lithium cleaning agent for use in hot tubs, but it might shed a little light on this question.  They measured people's lithium levels after sitting in a hot tub with 40 parts per million lithium ion, versus a tub with less than 1 part per million: think of it as a high lithium tub and a very low, almost zero lithium tub.
No difference in the blood levels of those sitting in these tubs for 20 minutes a day, 4 days a week for two weeks. 

This led me to wondering about the lithium concentration in "spa"-type hot springs. Searching Google (I love that tool): three "spas" had either no lithium at all or only a trace (less than 1 part per million). Looks like you'd get more lithium sitting in your neighbor's pool, if he cleans it with lithium hypochlorite -- but even that will lead to no appreciable lithium accumulation in your blood.  

As for your own tub and lithium bath salts: amazingly, there's an article on that too!  Dr. Halevy and colleagues tested a salt from the Dead Sea, which happens to contain more lithium than average table salt, as a bath treatment for psoriasis. They dumped in what looks to me like a whole lot of salt (could it really have been "5 kilograms per packet? Like, 10 pounds in each bath?) and still there was no difference in the lithium concentrations in the participants' blood, before and after, or compared to the table salt bath group. 

Looks like you'd have to use a really amazing amount of lithium in your bath salts to have any possible chance at affecting your lithium level.  We do think the level that matters is the one in your brain, not on the surface of your skin, right? So, the numbers here probably do answer your question: it almost certainly would have no impact at all.  On the other hand, I might feel better after a nice hot bath for 20 minutes every day, regardless of what was in the water!  

Dr. Phelps

June, 2005 


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