Does Lithium Extend Lifespan?

Fruit flies on low doses of lithium live up to 16% longer

Lithium is a well known mood stabiliser used in conditions like bipolar disorder, but it also extends the lifespan of the fruit fly drosophila melanogaster by up to 16% according to a new study at UCL. 

What did the study involve?

160 fruit flies were given different dosages of lithium chloride for the extent of their lives. While large dosages actually reduced lifespan, a sweet low dosing spot was able to increase lifespan by up to 18% in contrast to a control group taking sodium chloride (common table salt). Small, transient periods of dosing curiously appeared to extend lifespan as well. 

"To improve our quality and length of life we must delay the onset of age-related diseases by extending the healthiest period of our lives. Identifying a drug target for ageing is a crucial step in achieving this and by targeting GSK-3, we could discover new ways of controlling the ageing process in mammals, including humans"

 

How does it work?

The researchers discovered lithium acts by blocking an enzyme called glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK3) and activating another called NRF2. GSK3 is involved with glucose metabolism has been linked to inflammation, while NRF2 regulates expression of antioxidant defences. Both are found in humans and are therefore promising new drug targets. Lithium was also able to shield flies against the effects of a high sugar diet by inhibiting GSK3 activity and blocking fat production.  

"We found low doses not only prolong life but also shield the body from stress and block fat production for flies on a high sugar diet. Low doses also protect against the harmful effects of higher, toxic doses of lithium and other substances such as the pesticide paraquat. The response we've seen in flies to low doses of lithium is very encouraging and our next step is to look at targeting GSK-3 in more complex animals with the aim of eventually developing a drug regime to test in humans"

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