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Lithium is naturally found in takable form in nature and was put in water(some bathes/springs naturally) and sodas for years prior to having it approved by the FDA.

Interestingly historically could Lithium be originally be considered to be a alternative/integrative medicine?

Today it is obviously regulated partly for being toxic at high dosages but not originally.

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    A "natural" element as opposed to...what exactly? The handful of high atomic number elements that are produced synthetically? – Bryan Krause Nov 16 '18 at 19:26
  • What has your reaserch shown you about this? Have you found anything that indicates the use of it, however circumstantial or maybe speculative, before it came to be widely known as an effective treatment option? – LаngLаngС Nov 16 '18 at 20:39
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    If lithium is an alternative medicine historically then so are aspirin, opioids, cocaine, digitalis, nitrous oxide, and probably a dozen others. – Carey Gregory Nov 16 '18 at 20:47
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    @William Your edit doesn't really change the meaning at all. Lithium is no more natural an element than hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, iron, chlorine, strontium, or uranium (among many others). – Bryan Krause Nov 16 '18 at 22:27
  • @BryanKrause opposed to non naturally occurring compounds(antipsychotics antidepressants mood stabilizer) it is quite common – William Nov 16 '18 at 22:35
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Alternative medicine is medicine that is outside the standard of care and typically has no strong evidence for effectiveness beyond placebo effects. If there is sufficient scientific evidence that a treatment is effective, it becomes part of the standard of care and is no longer alternative medicine.

Alternative medicine does not mean "using 'natural' ingredients" or anything like that, because "natural" doesn't have any relationship to what is safe or effective: naturally occurring compounds can be poisons just as effectively as synthetic ones can be, chemistry doesn't care about the history of the atoms included in a molecule.

Lithium used as a medicine has always been based on experiments that showed effectiveness (even if mechanisms are/were poorly understood). Therefore, no, it is not an alternative medicine when used to treat anything for which there is evidence of effectiveness.

Lithium has also been used as patent medicine - in that context it could be thought of as "alternative" in that marketing claims were made that were not based on scientific evidence.

Lithium was not originally regulated, nor was anything. Regulation of anything is a relatively recent phenomenon, with the US FDA for example only founded in the early 1900s. Not everything is regulated immediately, new regulations are continually added as evidence for harm is discovered. Pharmaceuticals are a bit of a special case in that they must be "approved" rather than simply absent from a "harmful" list, but their regulation is related to marketing them as medical drugs, not based on their production or consumption.


Marmol, F. (2008). Lithium: bipolar disorder and neurodegenerative diseases Possible cellular mechanisms of the therapeutic effects of lithium. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 32(8), 1761-1771.

Shorter, E. (2009). The history of lithium therapy. Bipolar disorders, 11, 4-9.

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    Re: "Alternative medicine is, by definition, medicine that has no scientific basis for working", I don't know if that's accurate or helpful. I'd go with unorthodox, or not standard, rather than "no scientific basis". The NIH established an office of alternative medicine back in the 90s. – De Novo supports GoFundMonica Nov 16 '18 at 20:07
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    in clinical medicine, we generally try not to shame alternative medicine (because MANY people use alternative therapies, and we don't want them to keep quiet about it, or consider it to be something that shouldn't be discussed with their doctor). Not part of the standard of care is exactly accurate. But there are various non standard treatments that have evidence. Some of them will become standard of care, some of them won't. – De Novo supports GoFundMonica Nov 16 '18 at 20:32
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    The words and their definitions. "Integrative" might have triggered you as well as "alternative?" But then there are off-label, experimental treatments etc. Scientific is different from scientistic. I guess Q is/should be more like empirical, evidence based approaches for Lithium use before scientific, theoretical, chem/bio understanding of MoA or accepted use by the profession? Compared to the 'alternatives' things like Homeopathy or Psychoanalysis were nice ideas at the time. (It's really great when alternative med becomes med, rare as it is. For the night is dark, and full of errors). – LаngLаngС Nov 16 '18 at 20:34
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    @DeNovo I agree with the comment about making the statement less dogmatic. There is quite a bit of evidence for the effectiveness of a number of things categorized as alternative or integrative medicine - such as accupuncture, massage, meditation - there are even some practices that used to be considered alternative that are now standards of practice. Also, don't forget that western medicine as a field is certainly not perfect at dealing with many issues such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and chronic symptoms without clear etiology. We have to be humble about our limitations. – DoctorWhom Nov 16 '18 at 21:56
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    We practice based upon what is tried and true rather than experimental for a reason, and thus practices are necessarily behind new evidence. But I hesitate to state that anything outside standards of medical practice have NO scientific evidence for effectiveness. I might phrase it that they haven't established consistent and reliable enough results to have been accepted as standard of practice yet, and the evidence differs widely from "evidence it may work" to even "more likely to cause harm than benefit." Generalizations are not necessarily helpful in this setting. – DoctorWhom Nov 16 '18 at 22:27

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