Alzheimer's disease, a progressively damaging motor neurone condition, could be treated by lithium, a naturally occurring element that is extremely inexpensive, claim scientists.
The anti-depressant drug has been in use to treat mood swings and bipolar disorder and now, researchers at Sao Paulo University in Brazil, led by Dr Orestes Forlenza have discovered that the pills slowed down memory loss in the elderly, reducing their cognitive decline. They also noted that there was a decrease in build-up of tangles of damaging proteins called phospho- tau in people's brain fluid which characterized Alzheimer's disease.
The study examined 41 people over the age of 60 with mild cognitive impairment, out of whom 21 took low doses of lithium every day for a year. All went through tests of memory and attention and a sample of their brain fluid was analyzed for tau concentrations.
Dr Forlenza reported at the end of the study that the research 'supports the idea giving lithium to a person who is at risk of Alzheimer's disease may have a protective effect, and slow down the progression of memory loss to dementia.'
Professor Allan Young, a psychiatrist from Imperial College London, in a review of the study for the British Journal of Psychiatry, states, "This trial adds to the increasing evidence lithium may have beneficial effects on the brain and begs to be replicated in further randomised trials.'
He also recommends that the government and charities should fund these further trials and states, 'Such trials will not be cheap but, were they to prove positive, the possible benefits in health to our ever-ageing population would be beyond any such price.'