THURSDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- A new review of data
suggests than an old and inexpensive drug, lithium, may help lower
suicide risk in people with mood disorders such as depression or
"The study provides further evidence that one of the most
effective psychiatric medications for preventing suicide in
patients with mood disorders is also one of our oldest," said one
expert not connected to the research, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chairman
of psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City.
According to background information from the researchers, people
with mood disorders have a 30 times higher risk of suicide compared
to the general population.
Treatment with mood-stabilizing drugs such as lithium,
anticonvulsants or antipsychotics can help maintain mood within
normal limits, but their role in suicide prevention has been
unclear, according to background information in the review, which
was published online June 27 in the journal
The review was led by Andrea Cipriani, of the department of
psychiatry at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. His team
analyzed the results of 48 clinical trials involving more than
The researchers found lithium to be linked with a 60 percent
reduction in the risk of suicide and other causes of death compared
with people who took a placebo.
They also found that lithium may reduce the risk of self-harm in
people with mood disorders. "[The review] reinforces lithium as an
effective agent to reduce the risk of suicide in people with mood
disorders," the team said.
How the drug works to cut suicide risk remains unclear. Lithium
may reduce relapses of mood disorders, but there also is "some
evidence that lithium decreases aggression and possibly
impulsivity, which might be another mechanism mediating the
anti-suicidal effect," the researchers said.
The drug has many side effects, however, so the researchers said
doctors "need to take a balanced view of the likely benefits and
harm of lithium in the individual patient."
Dr. Robert Dicker, associate director of the Child/Adolescent
Psychiatry Division at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.,
called the new study "a great reminder that lithium offers
tremendous benefits in treating patients with mood disorders and
But Kolodny said the drug is not used as often as it could be.
"Lithium, which is generic and not promoted by pharmaceutical
companies, tends to be under-prescribed," he said. "Hopefully, this
study will help change that."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more