american field mouse wallpaper, lithium a simple metal and the oldest drug in psychiatry

mouse in grass

american field mouse wallpaper

 

The Metal Marvel That Has Mended Brains for 50 Years

Lithium is as puzzling as it is potent. It was the first drug used to treat mental illness, and more than 50 years later, it is still one of the most widely used psychiatric medications. But the doctors who prescribe lithium to their patients still do not know how it works or even why it works. “It is the most mysterious drug in psychiatry,” says De-Maw Chuang, a biologist at the National Institute of Mental Health. “It’s so small, but it is so powerful.”

Unlike other psychoactive chemicals—large, complex molecules like Prozac (fluoxetine) or Abilify (aripiprazole)—lithium is extremely simple. It is an element, the lightest of the metals, and its chemical properties are similar to those of the sodium in table salt. Nonetheless, researchers have recently found that lithium could be something close to a psychiatric wonder drug. It has two remarkable powers in the brains of mentally ill patients: protecting neurons from damage and death and alleviating existing damage by spurring new nerve cell growth. Far beyond its current application as a mood stabilizer, lithium could be helpful in treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, stroke, glaucoma, Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and Huntington’s disease—an impressive tally that earned it the nickname “the aspirin of the brain” in the journal Nature.

By way of serendipity a psychiatrist named John F. J. Cade discovered the therapeutic effects of lithium in the 1940s. he experimented on himself before giving it to patients( I strongly advise against self diagnosis and self medicating). In his first round of experimenting on patients with psychiatric disorders all 10 improved.  As recently as 2004 some researchers at the Eve Topf and National Parkinson Foundation Centers of Excellence for Neurodegenerative Diseases Research in Haifa, Israel found lithium can prevent or partially mediate the cell death implicated in Parkinson’s disease – in mouse systems thus far. One of the reasons for avoiding self experimentation is the narrow window for what constitutes both a safe and effective dose. Too much lithium can cause side effects which range from lethargy to tremors to permanent kidney or thyroid damage. I’d rather be depressed than not have kidneys myself. large clinical studies that examine the wider sues and formulations of lithium at a snail’s pace because lithium per se is not a patentable drug. Thus drug companies have little incentive to finance such trials.

I’d stop there but experience tells me people will not click over to read the whole article. Concerned about psychosis, personality disorders, crime rates and suicides? Studies which have found high trace amounts of lithium in city drinking water show a correlation with lower rates of those pressing medical and social issues. A correlation does not prove effect but it does indicate reason for more study.

Short of reading a few books on the subject, one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the history of poverty in the U.S. – The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, And The Politics Of The New Deal

An employee of Associated Charities, a private organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in the District of Columbia, met an old black woman carrying a basket of cinders near the dump in Southeast D.C. on a bitterly cold day in December 1896.

The woman “could not give street and number, but could ‘fotch’ the agent to her place,” according to a case study labeled “Aunt Winnie” in one of the organization’s annual reports from near the turn of the century. “Old age, with a heavy load on top and a strong wind blowing, made the walk a trying one. At last the 8×10 cabin was reached. In it was a stove in many pieces held together with wire, a bedstead with rags for mattress and rags for covering. From the leaky roof the floor was wet through and through.”

Aunt Winnie, the report said, had no income save the 50 cents she made every two weeks for taking in wash.

[  ]…Aunt Winnie, whose story is preserved in the archives of the Historical Society of Washington, had been sent to an American institution that was by then some 300 years old and went by a variety of names: the county farm, the poor farm, the almshouse or, most often, simply the poorhouse. She would probably have been surprised to learn that more than a hundred years later, after the virtual eradication of elderly poverty, a powerful political movement would materialize with the mission of returning to the hands-off social policies that made the poorhouse the nation’s only refuge for the jobless, the aged, the infirm and the disabled.

[  ]…Democratic President Grover Cleveland is one such hero. When Beck and guest Joseph Lehman were discussing the proper roles of welfare and charity this summer, Lehman noted that one “extreme [position] is, you’ve got welfare only as a last resort and all assistance is private.”

It wasn’t too extreme for Beck. “And this is where we actually were a hundred years ago,” Beck said, rightly thinking — or not — of people in Aunt Winnie’s situation.

“We used to be here. In fact, Grover Cleveland has this excellent statement. In 1887, President Cleveland said, ‘Though the people may support their government, the government shall not support the people,'” Lehman responded.

“That’s great,” said Beck.

[   ]…The nearly 54 million people drawing Social Security benefits receive, on average, $1,073.80 per month, according to the Social Security Administration. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates the program keeps some 20 million people out of poverty, including 13 million elderly Americans.

[   ]…The GOP is after Medicare, too, proposing to turn it into a voucher system, where the elderly would be given a coupon to buy health insurance, but the value of the voucher would rise at a rate much slower than health care costs, eventually making health care unaffordable for the elderly, just as it was before the program was implemented. And the economic engine of the New Deal, the necessity of deficit spending to spur employment and growth, has quickly morphed from a near-universally accepted law of economics to a political toxin Washington has puked up.

The easiest leg of the New Deal for the GOP to kick out from under it was Aid to Families with Dependent Children — more commonly known as welfare. In a debate stained with racial prejudice, the nation was introduced to the “Welfare Queen,” a largely mythical mother living fat on the public dole and popping out children for the sole purpose of increasing the monthly stipend. Democrats gave up defending it and President Clinton signed it away in 1995.

[  ]….What is dangerous about Social Security is that it works. It is evidence that people can do a better job insuring against life’s cruel downturns by working together and pooling resources than by going it alone in the market.

The last paragraph ( the whole article is much longer than my generous snips) is not a matter of political triumphalism. It is just facing facts about how markets have never and will never be perfect. As such the people that can least afford it – as now – will always be the ones who pay the steepest price in terms of quality of life. It is also an element of something which has less to do with politics and a lot to do with public policy, the structure of a modern democratic republic and being an adult – facing the reality of the human condition.

 

 

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