Low-level lithium in drinking water and subsequent risk of dementia: Cohort study

Ashleigh C Duthie, Jean Hannah, G David Batty, Ian J Deary, John M Starr, Daniel J Smith, Tom C Russ

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Lithium, a mood stabilizer, is known to exhibit neuroprotective effects in animal models and may have anti-dementia effects. Aims: We used data from Scottish Mental Survey 1932, a population-based cohort study, to investigate the association between lithium in drinking water and dementia rate in humans. Method: Lithium levels in drinking water from 285 sampling sites across Scotland dating from 2014 were obtained from the sole public water provider (Scottish Water). Dementia and non dementia cases were identified from cohort data by electronic health records until 2012, and linked to postcode. Results: The mean lithium level at all sampling sites was 1.45 μg/L (SD 1.83, range 0.5–18.2) and was 1.26 (SD 0.63, range 0.55–9.19) for sites matched to participant data. Of 37,597 study members, 3605 developed dementia until June 2012. Lithium levels were positively associated with the risk of dementia in women (highest in second quartile, HR 1.17, 95%CI 1.04–1.32), but there was no relationship in men (highest in second quartile, HR 0.95, 95% CI 0.81–1.12). The pattern of association was explored further by decile, and in females there was an association between lithium level and increased dementia risk compared to the lowest decile (0.55–0.68 μg/L) in all deciles except the highest, corresponding with lithium levels 0.68–2.1 μg/L. Conclusions: Lithium levels in drinking water are very low across Scotland which limited detection of potential effect. Our results do not support an association between extremely low levels of lithium and later dementia risk. We found a trend to increased risk in females at lithium levels below but not above 2.1 μg/L.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere5890
JournalInternational Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Issue number3
Early online date6 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • dementia
  • epidemiology
  • lithium


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