Bipolar Disorder: Lithium Would Protect Against COVID

Lithium, in salt form, has emerged as the primary “mood stabilizer” (or mood regulator) treatment in the management of bipolar disorder since the 1970s.

In this time of a pandemic, its anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties have attracted particular interest in the scientific community, reports Marion Leboyer, professor of psychiatry (Hôpitaux Henri Mondor, Université Paris Est Créteil, Inserm) on the website The conversation France.

Lithium salts are used to treat depressive or manic episodes of bipolar disorder and to prevent relapses. Their beneficial role in neuronal plasticity stems from their ability to enhance communication between neurons.

An antiviral effect of lithium

Numerous studies have suggested that lithium salts can block the replication cycle of several viruses, including certain coronaviruses, the professor reports. As early as 1979, researchers had shown that bipolar patients infected with the herpes virus and treated with lithium showed signs of clinical remission.

The latest data indicate that the antiviral effect of lithium is particularly pronounced on RNA and DNA viruses.

A possible antiviral effect of certain antidepressants

Several papers published since the beginning of the pandemic have already reported a possible protective effect of several antidepressants, including fluoxetine (Prozac) and fluvoxamine (Luvox). However, scientific data is still insufficient and the French medicines agency is currently excluding fluvoxamine from the therapeutic arsenal in the fight against COVID.

Other work appears to show adverse effects for other treatments (such as clozapine, an antipsychotic used in schizophrenia that appears to worsen the prognosis in the case of COVID).

A reduction in risk

Ms. Leboyer’s team’s work, published in March 2022 The British Journal of Psychiatryare the first to provide conclusive “real life” data suggesting that lithium intake at therapeutic doses is associated with a reduced risk of infection.

The team examined data from 26,554 people from a large anonymized US database. They had information for these individuals regarding their blood lithium levels, diagnoses of COVID-19 and/or PCR test results.

People who took lithium had a lower risk of having had a COVID-19 diagnosis and a positive PCR test. And this regardless of their diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder or their vaccination status.

However, the sample of people treated with lithium was too small to determine whether the drug had a beneficial effect in reducing the risk of severe forms in patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, a lower incidence of the condition, as found in the study, is likely associated with a lower risk of complications.

An explanation of the phenomenon

The mechanisms that explain the antiviral effects of lithium have not yet been elucidated. However, some evidence is emerging: In vitro studies have shown that this drug inhibits the replication of the virus’ RNA.

The researchers also found that lithium’s effect is particularly strong on SARS-CoV-2 but less so on other respiratory viruses: suggesting biological mechanisms specific to this coronavirus.

If due to these side effects (hypothyroidism, tremors, kidney problems, etc.)“, this “The results need to be weighed when a physician evaluates the risks and benefits of prescribing this treatment for patients with bipolar disorder, which is particularly vulnerable during a pandemic period.concludes the researcher. (Lithium side effects and recommendations, based on an analysis of 400 studies)

For more information on bipolar disorder, see the links below.

See also:

psychomedia with sources: The Conservation France, British Journal of Psychiatry.
All rights reserved.

Leave a Comment