Joe and Teresa Graedon answer readers’ questions. This week: A reader hoping to improve memory gives lithium a try.
Q: I read about low-dose lithium a few months ago. The article said that it might help prevent dementia and improve memory.
So, being old, with the usual forgetting where I put things and all that, I started taking 5 mg a day, a very low dose. To my amazement, after just a few days I found myself free of the chronic fatigue that had plagued me for more than a year after I had shingles. I haven’t seen this kind of result mentioned in any of the articles I found. I thought I was going to have to live the rest of my life at 25 percent energy, so it feels like lithium saved my life — or 75 percent of it, anyway.
A: Your story is intriguing. There is a new theory about chronic fatigue syndrome (Clinical & Experimental Immunology, February 2017). Immune cells may become impaired after infection, childbirth or trauma. Calcium channels that normally increase in number drop instead.
While it is not clear how lithium might affect fatigue, basic research shows that it does change how some brain cells handle calcium (Bipolar Disorders, November 2016). Researchers believe this may help explain how lithium works for people with bipolar disorder, but it also might tie in to your experience.
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The article you read about dementia might have been a study showing that in Denmark, people are less likely to develop dementia if their drinking water contains more lithium (JAMA Psychiatry, Oct. 1, 2017). We hope that further research will clarify this connection.
Make sure your doctor knows you are taking low-dose lithium. You should ask to have your kidney and thyroid function monitored periodically, since at high doses lithium can harm these organs.
Q: Does Celebrex need to be taken every day to work? Can you take it as you would take ibuprofen, meaning as needed when you are experiencing pain?
I have gotten conflicting answers from my doctor and my pharmacist. One says that it needs to build up in your system via a daily dose to be effective, and the other says take it only when you’re hurting. I don’t want to take such a powerful drug daily if it is not necessary.
A: Celecoxib (Celebrex) can be used for acute pain, such as after an accident or surgery. The analgesic effect usually kicks in within an hour.
For people with osteoarthritis pain, the recommended dose is either 100 mg twice a day or 200 mg once a day.
We see no reason why you couldn’t take Celebrex when you experience pain. This approach might reduce the risk of side effects.
Q: The instructions for my home blood-pressure machine make it clear that you should be sitting for at least five minutes, with your arm at just below heart height. In the doctor’s office, you hop off the scale, climb on a stool and sit with your legs dangling. Then the nurse takes your BP with your arm hanging down, nowhere near the level of your heart. How can that be accurate?
A: We too have been shocked to observe how often blood-pressure measurements in the clinic are performed incorrectly. As a result, home blood-pressure readings may be more reliable. They also lead to better blood-pressure control (Lancet, March 10, 2018).
For more information on the proper technique for measurement as well as strategies for controlling BP, we offer our “Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment.” Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (71 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. B-67, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 at peoplespharmacy.com.