Lithium is one of the most effective medications for bipolar disorder, but it has other benefits as well. At a 2015 scientific meeting, Ronald Fieve reported that among 1021 psychiatric outpatients, 570 who received long-term lithium treatment for their psychiatric illnesses had a significantly lower likelihood of certain medical conditions compared to the other outpatients who did not receive lithium therapy. The medical conditions that lithium made less likely were seizures, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia, and heart attack.
It is not yet know how lithium decreases these medical conditions. It may be by increasing the length of telomeres. Telomeres are repeated DNA sequences that sit at the end of chromosomes and protect them during cell replication. Telomeres get shorter with aging and with stressors or psychiatric illnesses. Lithium directly increases the enzyme telomerase, which maintains telomere length. This may be one reason lithium use provides some protection from seizures, heart attacks, and other conditions.
Allopregnanolone, a natural metabolite of the gondal steroid progesterone, is a neurosteroid that acts as a positive modulator of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABA-A receptors and exerts effects without the development of tolerance.
Researcher Mike Rogawski at the University of California, Davis developed an intravenous formulation of allopregnanolone that is being studied as a treatment for traumatic brain injury. The formulation was provided on an emergency use basis to stop treatment-resistant status epilepticus (non-stop seizures) in patients in intensive care who had been unresponsive to all medications and were placed in a barbiturate coma. When barbiturates were stopped, their seizures returned. All four intensive care patients who were treated with allopregnanolone had their status epilepticus cease and were able to go home. This included a 23-year-old who had been hospitalized with refractory status epilepticus for over 90 days.