RECENT research carried out at the University of Toledo (UToledo), Ohio, USA, has demonstrated that low-dose lithium acts as a powerful anti-ageing agent in the kidneys. Kidney function tends to decline in people as they age, often in the absence of any identifiable kidney disease. This can be an important health issue for many patients, increasing the risk of developing kidney disease and complicating the treatment of other health challenges.
“As people are living longer than ever, it’s crucial we find ways to slow or halt kidney ageing,” explained Rujun Gong, Professor of Medicine, UToledo. “Our findings suggest lithium may indeed have significant potential to do just that, reducing the burden of renal disease.”
Lithium is best known therapeutically as a treatment for bipolar disorder; however, previous laboratory experiments have demonstrated its anti-ageing properties through its ability to extend the lifespan of fruit flies and roundworms, with observational studies indicating that tap water laced with trace lithium might improve human longevity.
While lithium’s exact mechanism of action in the brain is still not understood, the researchers identified one major molecular target, glycogen synthase kinase 3 β, an enzyme associated with the cellular ageing of the kidneys and declining kidney function. By knocking out the gene responsible for producing glycogen synthase kinase 3 β, the researchers were able to slow kidney ageing and preserve kidney function in animal models.
Researchers then reviewed a group of psychiatric patients, assessing their kidney health. Analysis demonstrated that individuals who have received long-term lithium carbonate treatment had better functioning kidneys than those who had not received treatment.
“One of the pitfalls of lithium as a psychiatric medication is that the therapeutic window is very narrow. Because of the blood–brain barrier, the effective psychiatric dose for lithium is very close to the toxic dose,” explained Gong referencing the drugs negative reputation. “But you only need a really small dose to produce the anti-aging effect in other organs.
Gong highlighted the necessity for further investigation and large-scale clinical trials, which may allow lithium to emerge as an effective anti-ageing medication for kidneys, preserving kidney function in the ageing population.