Engineering Vs Psychiatry

29 01 2011

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and so I’m coming across things which I feel are significant enough to blog about. This is my second bit today and this time I’m looking at that miracle drug lithium.

Now, I’m not a big fan of psychiatric meds, I managed to stay off them for 32 years, had a bad time on them, now am off meds again (my choice not my doctors) and have been for a while so yes, I’m well and this is not being mental… well not more so than normal. However, there are some studies which suggest that lithium can actually encourage the growth of brain cells. When you think about the reduced amount of grey matter in certain parts of the brain exampled in bipolar disorder patients, this seems like a complete miracle drug which should be prescribed for all.

That’s exactly what the drug companies would have you believe, however there are side effects to lithium treatment, the main one being the destruction of the thyroid. Bit of Med 101 now, the thyroid gland produces hormones which help to regulate metabolism, everything from how much you can eat to what you can do is controlled by the thyroid doing its thing. This is pretty much what the ECU does in a car, utilising information to adjust the mixture of oxygen and fuel being used within the engine.

Ok, so what the hell am I on about you may ask. As with everything else, there is an optimum level depending on what is required, for a car this varies on what the car is doing, and so the mixture will change depending on what the car needs from the many inputs it receives. If you mess with one of these then there’s going to be a problem.

Continuing the car bit, if you fool the O2 sensor into thinking that the mixture is running weak then the ECU will see this and increase fuel in an effort to get more energy going. From this the engine will want to run faster, which means that everything happens faster. What’s wrong with that? Endurance racing in motorsport is where we find the answer.

Endurance racing is about completing as much as you can over a time span. If you have your engine etc running flat out you will have the speed to leave everyone standing to begin with, even with pausing for energy replenishment. However, it can last only so long before things are going to go wrong as everything has a finite life.

The way I look at lithium is that it successfully fools whatever passes for an oxygen sensor within the body, getting things to run differently. The benefit of this can’t easily be denied, however, the cost is something that is rarely explored, especially in the long term. Are people wearing themselves out prematurely on lithium? There’s way too many variables to answer this one but I think that for all treatment, we need to know when to stop as importantly as when to start.

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3 responses

29 01 2011
Rachael Black

The problem I had with Lithium -besides the physical side effect of an uncontrollable gag response- was the continual blood tests. Your thyroid function has to be measured almost monthly.
Am back on another cocktail.

There IS a reason Lithium has been prescribed for b-polar for so many years. It DOES work for a lot of people.

As an aside, I was diagnosed bi-polar more than 10 years ago but did not try Lithium until 2 years ago, and was only on it for 3 months. My father was a psychiatrist and spent most of his time getting people OFF of meds when/if possible.

I believe that many people who are truly bi-polar -as opposed to so many in the last few years who have self-diagnosed as with ADD- do benefit from medication. Also the DSM criteria keeps changing.

I agree that it’s the long term potential side effects that should be considered. Lithium has been on the market for so long now that physicians KNOW the danger to the thyroid and insist on the continual blood work.
Wish it worked for me.
Taking a damned handful of pills every day is depressing in itself, as you probably know.

29 01 2011
nullfuture

Lithium works, it’s true, and the side effects are well known, but for long term treatment, and I’m thinking of over decades, does it shorten someones life?

Are we screwed one way or another? Does lithium give us our lives back in return for a few years off the end?

30 01 2011
Rachael Black

From what I’ve read -and discenerend from my father- there are no long term negative effects from Lithium use.
and if so, even if no studies show it, how many years? the ones where we’re already in a wheelchair, drooling and thinking that we’re living it up in the Bahamas -grin-?

There are also many natural springs on the west coast (used to live near Palm Springs) which have amongst other minerals, lithium in their waters. Besides myself, I’ve a few other borderline and full on manic-depressive friends fthat ind a small amount of relief at these places.
Could be placebo, the relaxation of being away from home or a combination of all.
Empirically speaking I’ve never heard of a native tribe in southern California having limited life spans from spending their winters in these lithium rich pools. Sorry, had to leave science behind there for a second. Lemme slap myself back into reality.
All better now.

If I were able to tolerate the Lithium I’d take it in a heartbeat over the other mix of meds now in the cabinet.
Lithium has been used for over 100 years. Need to do some research before anything else, but to my knowledge there have been no cases of long term injury.
As stated previously though: As long as a patient’s blood work is monitored.

A lot to think about. More to Google. Thank you again for the intriguing blog.

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