Lithium is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder. It can be helpful for improving mood stability and reducing symptoms of mania. However, there are some risks and side effects that come with this medication.
A frequent side effect of lithium is weight gain, due to changes it can cause in metabolism. It is also known to decrease the production of thyroid hormones in some patients, and therefore cause hypothyroidism. This is a well-known side effect; however, not all doctors will test and treat this in the way that a naturopathic physician will. I am interested in helping my patients prevent problems before they start, so I tend to have a more proactive approach when it comes to managing this potential problem.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormones) is a condition that occurs commonly already, especially in women. Approximately 20% of women have hypothyroidism, and the risk of developing it increases with age. Taking lithium further increases the chances of developing hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms including weight gain, fatigue, depression, dry skin and hair, constipation and digestive discomfort, difficulty concentrating, menstrual irregularities, and several other symptoms.
I have treated many patients who are taking lithium and have undiagnosed hypothyroidism. I always test for proper thyroid balance in all of my patients with mood disorders, but especially those taking lithium. If thyroid hormones are low, the first step in improving this situation is to start thyroid replacement hormones to balance thyroid levels.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism usually will begin to improve within a few days of starting the replacement hormones. For some patients, their levels may be off only slightly, and they may not need to add thyroid hormones right away. Sometimes we can make other adjustments to their naturopathic protocol, retest their thyroid hormones, and find that the levels have improved.
I also always begin treatment with homeopathic medicine for each of my patients. This can replace the need for lithium by providing better mood stability naturally. With a healthier mood, lithium can then be tapered off and discontinued for most of my patients without a problem. This is particularly true of people with bipolar II, or less severe cases of bipolar I. Once lithium is tapered or discontinued, it’s not uncommon to see thyroid levels return to normal, eliminating the need for further thyroid replacement hormones.
Homeopathic treatment is very individualized. There is one best homeopathic match for your symptoms at any given time. These remedies are made into a solution from a single natural source like a plant or mineral, and then that solution is used to coat small sublingual pills, which are typically taken once or twice per day. Each homeopathic remedy can treat a specific set of symptoms that are unique. We find the perfect homeopathic medicine for your case, depending on your symptoms and your health story. With homeopathic treatment over time, we see excellent results in terms of helping our patients lead happier, healthier lives.