Very low levels of lithium in drinking water may help prevent suicide in the general population, according to a new study. The study has prompted calls for further research into the possibility of adding lithium to drinking supplies – like water fluoridation to improve dental health.
Researchers at Oita University in Japan measured natural lithium levels in tap water in 18 communities in the surrounding region of southern Japan. Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers said: "Our study suggests that very low levels of lithium in drinking water can lower the risk of suicide. Very low levels may possess an anti-suicidal effect."
(hat tip: David Kramer at the LRC blog)
The first thought that crossed my mind was of life imitating art. A key plot point of the 2005 SF flick "Serenity" was the horrific chemical experiment on a colony planet: in order to calm down the population, the government used "G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate" (a.k.a. "Pax") in the air supply. It worked all too well: 99% of the people just sat down and died. The rest turned into homicidal maniacs.
Then there's the plot of the 2007 Will Smith vehicle "I Am Legend," in which a viral vaccine against cancer causes 90% of humanity to die and the rest to become hyper-aggressive vampiric cannibals.
If art is any indicator, these social- and bio-engineering experiments not only fail, but have horrific blowback. But when has that stopped a government determined to "make people better", as one character aboard "Serenity" put it?
Next time you reach for that glass of water, ask yourself what's in it.