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Minerals in Detail

Chemical Details | Description | Industrial Applications | In Nature | Health Impacts

Enjoy Life Lithium


Lithium - chemical details
Atomic number3
Atomic mass6.941 g.mol-1
Electronegativity1.0 (according to Pauling)
Density0.53 g.cm-3 at 20 °C
Melting point180.5 °C
Boiling point1342 °C
Vanderwaals radius0.182 nm
Ionic radius0.06 nm
Electronic configuration1s22s1 or [He] 2s1
Energy of first ionisation520.1 kJ.mol-1
Standard potential- 3.02 V
Discovered1817 - Johann Arfvedson

Chemical Details | Description | Industrial Applications | In Nature | Health Impacts

Lithium - Description
Lithium is the first of the alkalis in the periodic table. In nature it’s found like a mixture of the isotopes Li6 and Li7. It’s the lightest solid metal, soft, silvery-white, reactive and has a low melting point. Many of its physical and chemical properties are more similar to those of the alkaline earth metals than to those of its own group. Between the most significant properties of lithium we find its high specific heat (calorific capacity), the huge temperature interval in the liquid state, high termic conductivity, low viscosity and very low density.

Lithium takes part in a huge number of reactions, with organic as well as inorganic reactants. It reacts with oxygen to form monoxide and peroxide. Metallic lithium’s reaction with water is extremely vigorous. Lithium reacts directly with carbon to produce the carbure. It also reacts with acetylenic compounds, forming lithium acetylures, which are important in vitamin A synthesis.

Chemical Details | Description | Industrial Applications | In Nature | Health Impacts

Lithium - Industrial applications
Lithium is used in pottery, medicine (anti-depressants), aircraft parts, storage batteries and welding. For details on industrial applications and impact on the environment see www.lenntech.com/Periodic-chart-elements/Li-en.htm

Chemical Details | Description | Industrial Applications | In Nature | Health Impacts

Lithium - In natural form
Like all alkali metals, lithium reacts easily in water and does not occur freely in nature due to its chemical activity. Lithium is a moderately abundant element in the Earth’s crust at 65 ppm (33rd most abundant element). Lithium is easily adsorbed by plants. The amount of lithium in plants varies widely, in some cases reaching 30 ppm.

In the United States lithium is recovered from brine pools in Nevada. Today, most commercial lithium is recovered from brine sources in Chile. World production of lithium ores and brine salts is around 40.000 tonnes per yearand reserves are estimated to be around 7 million tonnes.

Chemical Details | Description | Industrial Applications | In Nature | Health Impacts

Lithium - Impact on health
Lithium increases serotonin and influences the distribution of sodium and potassium, which regulate impulses along the nerve cells. It is also involved in sodium metabolism and its transportation in nerves and muscles, and is associated with the functioning of the autonomic or involuntary nervous systems. When taken as a supplement or "medicine" it usually takes several days to have any effect.

Lithium lowers sodium. Calcium lowers lithium.

Lithium salts were used during the 19th century to treat gout. Lithium salts such as lithium carbonate (Li2CO3), lithium citrate, and lithium orotate are mood stabilizers. They are used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, since unlike most other mood altering drugs, they counteract both mania and depression. Lithium can also be used to augment other antidepressant drugs. It is also sometimes prescribed as a preventive treatment for migraine disease and cluster headaches.

The active principle in these salts is the lithium ion Li+, which having a smaller diameter, can easily displace K+ and Na+ and even Ca2+, in spite of its greater charge, occupying their sites in several critical neuronal enzymes and neurotransmitter receptors. Therapeutically useful amounts of lithium (~ 0.6 to 1.2 mmol/l) are only slightly lower than toxic amounts (>1.5 mmol/l), so the blood levels of lithium must be carefully monitored during treatment to avoid toxicity.

Common side effects of lithium treatment include muscle tremors, twitching, ataxia, hyperparathyroidism bone loss, hypercalcemia, hypertension, etc.), kidney damage, nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (polyuria and polydipsia) and seizures. Many of the side-effects are a result caused by the increased elimination of potassium.

In 1997 a groundbreaking paper appeared in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, reporting that lithium interferes with a key process in the brain that damages nerve cells in Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers stated that “these findings could be exploited to develop a novel intervention for Alzheimer’s disease.”1

More recent studies in cell culture and lab animals have added weight to this prediction and found additional ways in which lithium protects nerve cells and stimulates the repair of damaged nerve tissue.2

  1. Hong, M., Chen,D., Klein, P., & Lee, V. (1997). Lithium reduces tau phosphorylation by inhibition of glycogen synthase kinase-3. J Biol Chem. 1997 Oct 3; 272(40):25326-32
  2. Aghdam, S. & Barger, S. (2007). Glycogen synthase kinase-3 in neurodegeneration and neuroprotection: lessons from lithium. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2007 Feb; 4(1):21-31

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Enjoy Life health & wellbeing
Enjoy Life health & wellbeing