Long-term Use of Lithium Can Cause Kidney Failure


A third of patients who have taken the common psychiatric medication lithium for over ten years have developed “chronic renal failure” from the drug, according to a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

Lithium is commonly prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia or eating disorders.

The team of Swedish researchers stated that they had previously found that “1.5% of people who took lithium from the 1960s and 1970s developed end-stage renal disease,” but that more modern approaches to administering the drug and monitoring side effects seemed to have reduced the prevalence of the damaging side effect. For this new study, they wanted to assess the prevalence and extent of kidney damage in more recent long-term users.

The researchers studied 4,879 patients who took lithium for at least 10 years between 1981 and 2010. They found that about one-third of the patients who had taken lithium for 10–29 years had evidence of “chronic renal failure,” while 5% were in the “severe or very severe category.”

“The results indicate that a substantial proportion of adult patients who are treated with lithium for more than a decade develop signs of renal functional impairment, also when treated according to modern therapeutic principles,” they wrote. “Our results emphasise that lithium treatment requires continuous monitoring of kidney function.”

Aiff, Harald, Per-Ola Attman, Mattias Aurell, Hans Bendz, Bernd Ramsauer, Staffan Schön, and Jan Svedlund. “Effects of 10 to 30 Years of Lithium Treatment on Kidney Function.” Journal of Psychopharmacology, March 3, 2015, 0269881115573808. doi:10.1177/0269881115573808. (Abstract)


    • thank you Sean! my exact thoughts. WTF? why is this news?

      I have known people several people made seriously permanently ill. I’ve known people who’ve needed kidney transplants and I had a client, whom I loved, die from lithium induced kidney failure. I cannot tell you how much I HATE lithium…and yet it’s still touted in some circles as the very best treatment for “bipolar disorder.”

      it’s truly a source of great pain in my heart.

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    • Education and awareness about mental illness is one of the most important things that needs to change if people living with a mental illness are able to participate fully in society. This article seems to be aimed at those who have no clue about these things. I’m currently trying to explain lithium toxicity to my employer and this article is useful in this context. So, settle down petals. Unsubscribe if it’s of no use for you.

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  1. This may also be part of the problem:

    “Drinking fluoridated water is especially harmful to anyone taking Lithium Carbonate. Ingesting the toxin lithium is risky enough, but fluorine atoms form the strongest bond with lithium atoms to create lithium fluoride, a rare earth glass (sand) which is especially tough for the kidneys to deal with.”

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  2. I was an early patsy for the manic-depression scam in 1974. My psychiatrist was a disciple of Dr. Ronald Fieve the author of “Moodswing” which was suggested reading, along with “Josh”, the biography of director Josh Logan. Logan was one of the first people to take large doses of Lithium and also one of the first to die a horrible death from kidney failure, which the doctors blamed on his drinking.

    Fieve’s book is a thinly disguised promo for biological psychiatry, and I saw through it almost immediately. The Josh Logan biography encouraged me to look into the chemical nature of lithium and its relationship to essential trace elements, which led me to tissue mineral analysis (hair analysis) and orthomolecular therapy, and ultimate escape from biological psychiatry.

    So the books touted as required reading for my psychiatrist’s patients actually enabled my escape from him and his co-conspirators.

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  3. They found that about one-third of the patients who had taken lithium for 10–29 years had evidence of “chronic renal failure,” while 5% were in the “severe or very severe category.”

    These are terrifying statistics which call for end to prescribing it rather than to “better monitoring”.

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  4. It’s too bad, both that and the nervous system damage. Take those two things away and lithium was the only psych drug I ever actually liked. I could just sit and watch T.V. for hours and enjoy everything that was on without even caring what it was. Everything seemed so nice and comforting. Really, I could have been attacked by a charging bear and might had just happily waved to it as it were approaching. It was the ultimate la-tee-da drug in my experience.

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  5. It still blows my mind how they just decided on the type and dosage of lithium. No one ever seems to question it either just yep get that level to 0.6-075 in the bloodstream, are they still alive ? Cool !

    Good for business regular pathology tests though.

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  6. This is the reason one of my clients is on the list for a kidney transplant after 30 years of lithium for diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder – I diagnosis that I would never have given her, based on her current presentation and her narrative regarding her past. This is a genuine tragedy. Unfortunately, lithium is still being prescribed…

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    • My former psychiatrist for some reason offered me either lithium or a stimulant several years ago. I was so zoned out on the meds, I never asked his reasoning since he hadn’t diagnosed me with BP. Fortunately, I chose the stimulant although I realize I am using the word loosely since stimulants obviously aren’t side effect free.

      Anyway, my heart breaks for people who have suffered kidney damage from being on this med. I can’t imagine going through that.

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      • If psychiatrists were doctors they may have realized that one well-known fact about kidney damage is that it often develops symptomless until it reaches the stage when it’s permanent, irreversible and life-threatening. Some people live just fine with one kidney – so it really takes a major damage for it to be seen on a simple blood check. And that usually means it’s too late.

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  7. Yes, this is sadly true. My uncle passed away from kidney failure due to lithium poisoning, after taking it for about 15 years. He was having his kidney panels monitored, but it got him anyway, in the end, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind.

    During the 15 or so years I was on Lithium, I had my panels checked dutifully twice a year. They were always a bit off, and then they jumped suddenly, as I was breaking through any equilibrium which the Lithium had been ‘appearing’ to create, so I started experiencing only debilitating side effects, with no beneficial effects.

    All of this is what influenced me to stop all medication. Once I did and regenerated my organs via natural methods, including herbs and Qi Gong, I had all of my panels checked and they totally went back to normal when I got off of all nine medication, and have been since.

    For me, it was black & white. If I wanted good health, balance, clarity, and a good life of high quality and peace of mind, I could only ditch the drugs and heal my way, naturally.

    Lithium is toxic, as are the others. Alternatives to this is a must, if people are to thrive in well-being. That’s the goal, to my mind.

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  8. Putting 1,000 – 2,000 milligrams of salt in your body every day is not a brilliant plan.

    Drinking deep well mineral water is a way to get trace amounts (along with other minerals). This water has .17 mg of lithium, and is available at health food stores and other retailers:


    The key to supplemental lithium is using very small, or even trace amounts in Lithium Orotate form. The recommended daily dose on the side of the bottle is 5 mg per day. Some people find enormous benefit from this.

    A naturopath or holistic practitioner may recommend a higher amount – 20-30 mg/day is pretty common, but medical supervision is recommended, especially if higher than 20-30 mg per day.


    Duane Sherry, MS
    Retired Counselor

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  9. Thank you thank you thank you! Sharing! I am a lithium survivor myself, 12 years. I was one of those put on it simply via “we are trying this for the heck of it.” I was first put on it at Gould Farm. I had no signs of “bipolar.” Well, I did. I had the usual moodswings of a 26-year-old woman. Maybe I said “bisexual” and they misheard. This seems possible, since I said “eating disorder” and they heard “schiz.” I was put on disability for schiz when I had no psychosis, but I suppose no one could think of anything else. Or maybe they closed their eyes, held a pin, and placed it down on the list of dxes to decide what the heck category to put me in. Later, I found out the doctor they had there wasn’t licensed. Seriously. Did he tell them “I am a former Mafia boss” (not that he was necessarily) and they heard “licensed psychiatrist”? Either way, lithium stopped binge eating for me so I kept taking it. When I developed kidney disease, I was lied to and this was covered up for years. Also, I had diabetes insipidus for an entire 25 years which all along they insisted was “pathological polydipsia” till I proved them wrong. I did the logical thing, got the heck away from these fake doctors.

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  10. I want to add that I am now compiling a literary anthology of writings by lithium survivors. I hold an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. Anyone who is a lithium survivor is invited to send in a contribution. I am only now figuring out how I’m going to do this, so I don’t yet have a solid format for the anthology planned out. Please write to me at [email protected] if you are interested.

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  11. Hello, I want to add that for those out there who were duped into taking lithium and are now experiencing kidney disease, there are a variety of resources out there. These run the gamut so if you don’t like what you see, look elsewhere. I have read, from what appears reputable, that “kidney disease” is invariably progressive, that nothing can be done to stop the progression, that you are bound to reach Stage Five and then you have to choose between a transplant if you can get one or dialysis and rotten quality of life.

    From what I know, though, there is no kidney disease. It’s not an actual disease. It’s a set of various kidney problems that might cause the kidneys to function at a lesser than optimal way. There are various types of physical damage to kidneys, some that is from past infection, some from drugs such as lithium, some from structural problems present at birth, Therefore, to say that “kidney disease is always progressive” is a sweeping generalization that isn’t helpful to kidney patients.

    The alternative is to consult other sources. I mean ask your friends, go to forums, listen to actual stories. Then, you will hear hope. I heard a story recently about a woman who had to have a kidney removed (not due to lithium but due to hereditary problem), but the doctor left in a tiny piece of it. Guess what happened? She didn’t even know it, but after a few years, that darned thing grew, as if it were a seed someone had planted. “Sure enough, Jack woke up and there was the Beanstalk, leading all the way to Heaven.” When she had to have an ultrasound (this was done by someone who had no clue about her prior surgery) she was surprised to hear that her two kidneys were now nearly identical in size. Did she follow a special diet? Nope. Did she quit smoking and drinking? Nope. She is a creative person, and she has a good sense of humor. Beyond that, she has no explanation, except she didn’t go the “appointments” route.

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  12. So much hatred for lithium. It is an amazing drug for many mental issues, it works better than most if not all drugs. For me, nothing else worked, but Lithium has made me stable and healthy.

    It is true it is very bad, I myself and experiencing issues now, and I am young.

    However Lithium is a great short term drug. Many people who go off of it (and similar drugs) often pretend to use other “healthier” methods and such, but I have seen it with my own two eyes many times, it almost always fails.

    Conspiracy theorists are paranoid, and they want more from life than exists. Lithium and other drugs have dangerous side affects, that is what happens when you put chemicals in your brain. But nine times out of ten they work great, and they help the patient, despite what paranoid conspiracy weirdos will tell you (with no proof, or proof that can be anything else, far less suspicious but they jump to aliens and Illuminati instead)

    Anyways long story short, Lithium increases intelligence, helps with mood issues, and is by far the most effective drug for Bipolar. Long term use is sadly out of the picture, but for some, the kidney risk is worth it for the solid and healthy lifestyle Lithium can and almost always promotes.

    I swear, these comments saying they took Lithium, Lithium is nothing like they describe. Not sure what they took, but it was not lithium or they took other crap with it (alcohol, other pills)

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  13. In 1972,I was diagnosed in Rochester Minnesota with Bipolar I. I was given Lithium. I was 20 years old. Today I am 64 years old and still take lithium. I’ve had a good life due to the mood stabilizing effects of Lithium .Most people have no idea I have Bipolar, unless I tell them. I have been married to the same man for 42 years and raised 3 children . I am sorry for those who were not doing well on Lithium! It’s a natural remedy, found on the scientific chart of basic elements, near hydrogen and helium. Most of psychiatric meds are a recipe of complicated chemicals concocted in a laboratory. If you had a choice, which one would you want in your body? I made my choice .


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    • Yes, I took high school chemistry, too. In fact, I was in an honors class, if I recall correctly. Back then, we used slide rules. My friend showed me her shiny electronic calculator, but I didn’t want one, explaining that I thought that for sure, that would be “cheating.” Either way, I also learned that many of those “elements” listed in the periodic table you won’t find in any kiddie junior scientist set. If my mom had ever seen me with some of those “elements” in her kitchen, she would have given me h*ll, whether they were deemed Kosher or not. In fact, had I been walking around with some, I would have made everyone sick with radiation poisoning. Oh, the happy “glow.”

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      • I took lithium for maybe two years and I don’t think it was very good for my physical health. At the time I had the clammy sweat grey palor and completely dead personality as well.

        When I stopped the lithium I went up not down – but I balanced off eventually.

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  14. Lithium has saved my life and my brain. I’ve been taking it for 4 years and even though it sounds weird, I can FEEL my brain healing from all the damage my depression has caused. New pathways are opening up. Emotions are working with each other, not against. This past year I have felt differently than I have in 40 years, I feel like a normal person. It’s the little things, like spontaneously laughing at something that’s funny…feeling confident about myself and the world…remembering information I learned in school that I haven’t been able to recall in decades…not collapsing with tears and worry over every little minor event. I literally have stopped worrying about things, and that has always been my biggest albatross. I will take this for the rest of my life, no matter what it does to my kidneys. Feeling peaceful and normal and happy means more to me than an early death from kidney failure. (But I think my kidneys are going to be just fine.)

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    • I was taken off in 1996. I can’t say I had any change in my moods as they were already human enough. I was already on Tegretol anyway. I actually did not want to get off the Lithium at the time. Either way, the damage was already done, as I found out. The DI turned out to be permanent. The kidney failure happened many years after I got off lithium, but definitely was from that drug. My kidneys were slowly failing over the years. Oh, don’t expect your docs to be honest about it, either. Mine were not.

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      • The good news is that kidneys do restore, despite what the “experts” claim. The key, believe it or not, is to leave them alone and stay away from Lithium and other harmful chemicals. Take good care of yourself, stay far away from the doctor’s office, and you might be surprised one day to find yourself a lot better.

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  15. I am revisiting this post and read the article, as much as I had access to. I noted the wording of the article, “only 5%” had ESRD. If you realize the sampling was of those who started on lithium after 1980, and had been on it at least ten years as of 2010, this gives us a sampling of people who are likely age 30 to 50. They likely do have kidney disease, and they are not likely YET at ESRD. Patients who reach ESRD are usually put on dialysis. Death most usually occurs during the first six months of dialysis. If you survive that, you are likely to live a few more years.

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