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1. Introduction


In 1990, an article was published in Biological Trace Elements Research (Schrauzer & Shrestha, 1990) reporting a negative correlation between levels of lithium in drinking water and rates of suicide and crimes in Texas. Since then, two other articles have been published reporting similar findings in Japan (Ohgami, Terao, Shiotsuki & Iwata, 2009) and Austria (Kapusta et al., 2011). The former, released in 2009, sparked a heated debate as to whether lithium should be added to municipal water supplies.

The present clip is an opinion piece by American radio talk show host, Alex Jones. The clip, which was published on Jones’ website Infowars.com, warns the public of the dangers of vaccines and the addition of chemicals such as lithium to drinking water. We have chosen to focus this wiki on the addition of lithium to drinking water because of its specificity, enabling us to concentrate our research. In this piece, Jones accuses the authorities of attempting to “dumb down” the population and encourages his viewers to rally against what he considers “forcibly drugging the population”.

This clip is of interest because vaccines and water additives are large scale health initiatives that ultimately affect the entire population to which they are exposed. As such, they attract a great deal of public opinion and scepticism, as evident in the present clip. We chose this clip because of its controversial nature and particular relevance to one member of our group, who previously lived in America and actually heard Alex Jones’ radio program.

In this wiki we seek to examine the effects of lithium on the brain to determine whether there is any evidence for or against the addition of lithium to drinking water.

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2. Neuroscientific Context


Lithium is found in varying trace amounts in soil, drinking water and foods such as grains and vegetables. Lithium salts such as lithium carbonate and lithium acetate have been used for over 60 years as mood stabilizers and are still the first line of treatment for bipolar disorder (Gallicchio, 2011). Despite its long history of therapeutic use, the exact biochemical mechanisms by which lithium controls mood are still not fully defined.
Lithium has a number of direct inhibitory actions on cellular enzymes as well as indirect effects of a large number of signaling cascades. These include cyclic AMP, phosphoinositol, Wnt and PI3K/Akt (which we will not cover in detail here – for more information see Chiu & Chuang, 2010). Signaling pathways are involved in the regulation of complex neurobiological functions such as cognition, appetite, sexual arousal, sleep patterns and response to hormones, all of which are altered in mood disorders
(O’Donnel & Gould, 2007).

Lithium induced changes in signaling pathways regulate changes in protein and gene expression, resulting in long-term effects. Indeed, it has been recognised that lithium’s beneficial effects usually require long-term administration to become apparent. Furthermore, these effects are not immediately reversed after discontinuation of the drug, suggesting that lithium alters gene expression in the CNS (Chiu & Chuang, 2010).

2.1 Direct Targets of Lithium
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GSK-3

Of particular importance is the effect of lithium on the enzyme glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3). GSK-3 is directly inhibitedby therapeutic levels of lithium. This results in an up-regulation of β-catenin, which subsequently enhances transcription of a diverse range of genes including growth factors and those involved in apoptotic inhibition (O'Donnel & Gould, 2007). Experimental data has shown that selective inhibition of GSK-3 produces antidepressant and antimanic effects in mice (Chui & Chuang, 2010). Conversely, overexpression of GSK-3 produces hyperactivity and mania-like behavior. These findings support the hypothesis that GSK-3 is implicated in lithium’s therapeutic properties.
Lithium has also been shown to decrease brain inositol concentrations. Inositol is a simple six-carbon sugar which forms the basis of a number of intracellular signalling modifications (Harwood, 2005, p.117). Lithium works by inhibiting inositol monophosphatase, an enzyme involved in the biosynthesis of inositol (Deranieh & Greenberg, 2009). Lithium also prevents the recycling of inositol by blocking the dephosphorylation of inositol phosphates.

Inositol depletion produces wide ranging effects, including changes in the cytoskeleton, calcium signalling and the gene expression (Harwood, 2005). Calcium signalling is important for modulating neuronal activity and changes in calcium signalling have been observed in the lymphocytes of patients with bipolar disorder (Harwood, 2005). Despite this, there is still debate as to whether the inositol depletion hypothesis is responsible for lithium’s therapeutic effects.

2.2 Benefits Acquired from Lithium

There are correlational studies providing evidence that places with low traces of lithium in drinking water have decreased levels of suicide (Ohgami et al., 2009). Although, further research needs to be undertaken to provide more support for this before traces of lithium can be added in water sources in other places outside of the study. There are, however, other benefits of lithium that have proven useful in the fields of neuroscience and pharmacology.

2.2.1 Anti-Depressant

The inclusion of lithium in antidepressants has been the center of a few recent studies, making it popular as a treatment choice for unipolar depression (Roman, 2010). Brujin and colleagues (1998) found that addition of lithium to imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, produced significant results with no serious side effects. This addition is also more effective than just novel antidepressant administration (Birkenhager, 2010). In addition, older adults diagnosed with affective disorders are prescribed lithium to abate symptoms (Paton et al., 2010). Given that there is a high suicide rate associated with unipolar depression (Baldessarino and Tondo, 2003), lithium is a good agent against suicidal incidents.

2.2.2 Neuroprotectant

It has been suggested that apoptosis-induced cell death, usually due to traumatic brain injury, stroke or neurodegenerative diseases can be prevented by lithium (Roman, 2010). Hippocampal neurodegeneration and cognitive dysfunction due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be diminished with chronic lithium treatment. This is due to the lesion caused by a TBI as well as the inflammatory response being lessened due to reduction of cell death in the hippocampus (Zhu, Wang, Han & William, 2010). The inflammation caused by a TBI could result in neurological deterioration. IL-1β is a pro-inflammatory cytokin responsible for the post-injury hemispheric tissue loss. Lithium inhibits IL-1β and also GSK-3β expression, giving it an anti-inflammatory property. This neutralisation of IL-1β attenuates the tissue loss and diminishes any cognitive deficits resulting from a TBI. Chronic lithium treatment also lessens glutamate excitotoxicity, and oxidative stress, attenuating edema formation and improving recovery after traumatic injury. It could be seen that lithium treatment could decrease neurodegeneration and prevent cognitive dysfunction.
Although there is a lot of research on the effect of therapeutic doses of lithium, little is known about the effects of natural lithium intake. Lithium in surface water can reach concentrations of up to 10mg/l, however, this is still much lower than the amount used therapeutically (a standard Lithium pill contains 750mg of lithium – Kapusta et al, 2010). The main evidence in support of low level lithium administrations comes from ecological studies comparing levels of lithium in drinking water and rates of suicides. Ohgami et al. (2009) reported a significant negative correlation between lithium levels and suicide rates in Japan, although they acknowledge that ‘it seems unlikely that such low lithium levels can bring about mood-stabilising effects’ (Ohgami et al., 2009). At present, there is little neuroscientifc research on the mechanisms by which such low levels of lithium could alter the brain. As such, we don’t know enough about the neurological effects of long-term, low-level lithium administrations to warrant adding it to water supplies.

2.3 Negative Effects of Lithium on the brain

There is some evidence that lithium administration to the normal brain has the potential to cause long lasting adverse effects. Youngs et al. (2006) conducted a study that examined the long-term effects of lithium on the developing brain in rats. Microarray analysis of the rat amygdala revealed that lithium treatment had effected the expression of gene transcripts involved in cell adhesion and the structure of synapses and cytoskeleton. If translated, these changes could result in the structural rearrangement of neurons. Although these changes in gene expression were only temporary, they could result in a permanent rearrangement of the neurons.
It is worth noting that the rats in this experiment were administered levels of lithium much higher than the amount a person would consume daily in normal drinking water. None the less, these findings caution against the addition of lithium to drinking water until we fully understand its effects on the developing brain.
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3. Analysis


3.1 Target Audience

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Alex Jones: Radio Talk Show Host
The Alex Jones talkback show is a wide-reaching radio show that is broadcast in America from 11am-2pm weekdays. The main audience would likely be the general American public as the time slot coincides with most people’s lunch break.


He also has an application available on the iTunes store which includes live audio streaming and replays of the radio show.

3.2 Intention of the article

The purpose of this video is to warn the public about the dangers of vaccines and the addition of chemicals to the drinking water. However, it is better described as an objection to the administration of drugs without consent, than an actual investigation into their side effects. Jones uses scare tactics to motivate his viewers to rise against the authorities in order to “bring them to justice”.

3.3 Pitch and manner

Alex Jones’ manner is highly sensationalistic. He is renowned among conspiracy theorists and this is reflected in his use of highly emotive language, eg, “brain eating vaccines” and “forcibly drugging you”.

The derogatory terms, eg, “sickening, disgusting filth” that he uses to describe the ‘social leaders’ reflects Jones’ underlying bias and distrust of those in authority.

The clip is extremely one-sided. Jones does not provide any information in support of the aforementioned health initiatives. The only information we see in support of lithium is a brief clip of bioethicist Jacob Appel, whom Jones ridicules mercilessly.

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A screen cap of one of the scenes in the video

A number of irrelevant pictures appear on screen throughout the video and can only be thought to have been used to try to invoke a sense of fear among people, one of them being shown above.

3.4 Simplifications made in the video

Jones does not engage in very scientific language, nor does he employ any jargon words that the general populace would not understand. With his repetitive slandering of authority and aggressive tone, he creates more of an opinion piece than an information-rich educational video.

3.5 Quality of the information in the video

Alex Jones begins his video by expressing to the viewers that “none of this is my opinion, it is fact”. However, he then goes on to make a number of extreme claims, describing the health initiatives as a “global scientific corporate takeover of life itself” and a “medical dictatorship”. This approach detracts from the baseline message and it raises questions about the quality of the information he is providing.

One major claim Jones makes is that lithium is “already” being added to the water. We could find no evidence that the addition of lithium to drinking water has been initiated. However, by claiming that it is already happening, he make his arguments more relevant and creates a greater sense of urgency and fear.

Furthermore, he cites the New York Times, Time magazine and ‘all major medical journals’ as promoting drugging of the water. In actual fact, these articles are merely announcing the discovery by Japanese scientists of a correlation between lithium and suicide (see Neuroscientific context section), or talking about completely unrelated chemicals such as ibuprofen and fluoride.

Upon closer inspection of other linked articles, none are credible scientific articles. For example a page arguing against lithium use due to its “well-documented harmful effects” links to a Wikipedia page, which can be edited by the general public. Jones also references a website run by a family who are documenting fraud by the government and have no scientific basis or credibility in the scientific community.

Interestingly, Jones cites Russell Blaylock as being supportive of his endeavour. A search of Blaylock reveals that he is a retired neurosurgeon who is now endorsing pseudoscience-based medicines which are not backed by large-scale clinical trials (Skeptic’s Dictionary, 2010).

3.6 Accordance to current scientific research

There is little established scientific information in this video and the mechanisms behind lithium are still unknown so it is difficult to conclude whether Jones is in accordance with what is currently known in the scientific community. However, he claims that adding lithium to the water will “make you submit”. This is in reference to therapeutic levels of lithium used in treating bipolar disorder. As Jacob Appel points out in his video (Jacob Appel, 2010), the amount of lithium found naturally in water is much lower than that used therapeutically. Furthermore, we could find no scientific evidence that lithium causes you to become ‘submissive’.

One claim that Jones made that is somewhat true is that there are higher concentrations of lithium in the drinking water in Texas. This has been studied and it was found that the areas with higher concentrations boasted lower crime rates (Schrauzer & Shrestha, 1990). This does not, however, indicate that Jones’ claim about submission is true, particularly due to the correlational nature of such studies.

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4. Appendix


Search Strategy


As mentioned above, one of our group members had heard about Alex Jones whilst living in America and how hysterical he was about the consumption of drugged food and drink for the past decade. Our group decided to research videos on the genetic modification as well as the destruction of the integrity of food and how that could affect the brain’s functions.
We typed into YouTube “Alex Jones + food + brain” and we were amazed at how many videos actually came up for it. When we came across one of his videos titled: “Media Pushes BRAIN Eating Vaccines, Lobotomized, Subservient Public!” we almost instantaneously knew that this would be the video we would use for the project. The hysterical and fear mongering nature of the video captured our attention and the overwhelmingly one-sided and unscientific nature of the argument made it suitable for critical analysis.

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603 Results for "Alex Jones + food + brain" on YouTube

His program about “brain eating vaccines” was broadcasted on August 3rd, 2010. On this broadcast he told his listeners to google the term “brain eating vaccines” in order to spread the word by making it a trending topic. Evidently enough, the google search term became the number one trended search that day. The fact that the search term made number one shows the large scale of his influence.

We chose not to undertake the investigation of these vaccines or the other numerous issues briefly mentioned in this video due to the lack of specificity. A search using scientific databases returned very minimal information concerning the vaccines Jones was rallying against and, as such, a more thorough investigation into lithium was allowed.

Due to these many factors, and the fact that there were many neuroscientific topics mentioned in his video such as lithium in the water affecting our brains, we thought this was a suitable media item for our project.

We used the databases Web of Science and PsycInfo to find relevant and recent journal articles. Given that there are some uncertainties and conflicting opinions surrounding lithium, we read widely to gain a full understanding of the issues.

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5. References


Baldessarino R.J. & Tondo, L.(2003). Suicide risk and treatments for patients with bipolar disorder. JAMA, 290, 1517-1519.
Birkenhager, W.W. (2010). Lithium Addition to a tricyclic antidepressant results in optimal efficacy. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 123, 83.
Chiu, C. & Chuang, D. (2010). Molecular actions and therapeutic potential of lithium in preclinical and clinical studies of CNS disorders. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 128(2), 281-304.
Deranieh, M., & Greenberg, M. (2009). Cellular consequences of inositol depletion. Biochemical Society Transactions, 37, 1099-1103.
Gallicchio, V.S. (2011). Lithium – still interesting after all these years. Trace Elements and Electrolytes, 28(1), 56-69.

Harwood, A. (2005). Lithium and bipolar mood disorder: the inositol-depletion hypothesis revisited. Molecular Psychiatry, 10(1), 117-126.

Jacob Appel. (2010, July 28). Retrieved 9th September, 2011, from The Big Think website: http://bigthink.com/jacobappel#!video_idea_id=21595

Kapusta, N., Mossaheb, N., Etzersdofer, E., Hlavin, G., Thau, K., Willeit, M.,...Leithner, D. (2011). Lithium in drinking water and suicide mortality. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 198(5), 346-350.
O’Donnell, K., & Gould, T. (2007). The behavioural actions of lithium in rodent models: Leads to develop novel therapeutics. Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 31(6), 932-962.

Ohgami, H., Terao, T., Shiotsuki, I., Ishii, N., & Iwata, N. (2009). Lithium levels in drinking water and risk of suicide. British Journal of Psychiatry, 194(5), 464-465.

Roman, M.W. (2010). Lithium: A Regeneration of Interest. Psychotherapeutics Column, 31, 753-754.
Russell Blaylock, M.D. (2010, 9th December). Retrieved 9th September, 2011, from The Skeptic’s Dictionary website: http://www.skepdic.com/blaylock.html
Schrauzer, G.N., & Shrestha, K.P. (1990). Lithium in drinking water and the incidence of crimes, suicides and arrests related to drug additctions. Biological Trace Element Research, 25(2), 105-113.
Youngs, R., Chu, M., Meloni, E., Naydenov, A., Carlezon, W., & Konradi, C. (2006). Lithium administration to preadolescent rats causes long-lasting increases in anxiety-like behaviour and has molecular consequences. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(22), 6031-6039.

Zhu, Z.F., Wang, Q.G., Han, B.J., & William, C.P. (2010). Neuroprotective effect and cognitive outcome of chronic lithium on traumatic brain injury in mice. Brain Research Bulletin, 83, 272-272.

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