Lithium — from the Greek word lithos, which means "stone" — is a silver-white chemical element that belongs to the alkali metal group in the periodic table. It has numerous industrial and commercial applications, such as psychiatric drugs, heat-resistant glass, batteries and the alloy in aircraft. Interestingly, lithium is also present in foods. In normal doses, lithium does not have any perceivable toxic effect and might actually hold some physiological significance to living organisms.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, estimates that the daily lithium consumption for a 154 lb. adult ranges from 650 to 3,100 micrograms, or mcg. A microgram is one-millionth of a gram. Due to the high lithium content within human embryos, scientists believe it might play an important role during early fetal development. It might also affect behavior and the central nervous system in some way. Without further studies, it's difficult to estimate dietary needs in humans. Provisionally, the recommended dietary allowance is 1,000 mcg per day.
Sources of Lithium
Trace amounts of lithium exist naturally within the soil and ground water. Plants readily absorb lithium by taking it up through the roots from mineral-rich waters, though it does not seem to be necessary for the growth and development of the organism. From there, it enters the rest of the food chain. Lithium does not exist in its "free" form. Instead, it is joined with various water-soluble salts. This is the form in which it appears within the tissue of animals and plants.
The primary source of lithium in the diet is grains and vegetables, which contribute between 66 to 90 percent of the total daily intake. Animal-derived foods represent the remainder of your food intake. When it comes to beverages, water also contains high levels of lithium. In some parts of Texas, tap water can contain up to 170 mcg per quart.
The precise amount you eat depends largely on the lithium content in the soil, which can vary widely between different countries and regions. For example, the ground water of northern Chile is particularly lithium rich. However, some plants have a greater propensity for absorbing lithium. Nightshade plants such as peppers, potatoes and tomatoes demonstrate a remarkable tolerance to lithium and can reach a lithium content of up to 1,000 mcg per gram. Eggs, milk and any foods made from grains also appear to have high lithium content.
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