What are The Uses of Lithium Metal in Daily Life? Benefits and Precautions

What is lithium?

Lithium is a chemical element that has the symbol Li and atomic number of 3. It is grouped as the alkali metals in the periodic table. Lithium is a soft, silvery white alkali metals. It is the lightest metal and also the lightest solid element under standard conditions. Like all alkali metals that are known, lithium is a highly reactive metal (It reacts with water, but not as violent as sodium).

It is also highly flammable. Lithium is usually stored in mineral oil. It never occurs freely in nature, but lithium can only be found in ionic compounds, such as pegmatitic minerals (which were once the main and only known source of lithium). Due to lithium’s solubility as an ion, it is commonly obtained from the brines on the ocean water. The name, Lithium, was derived from the Greek word “lithos” which means stone.

The lithium element was first discovered by Johann August Arfvedson in 1817. It was found in the mineral petalite (LiAl(Si2O5)2). In 1855, Lithium was isolated by Augustus Matthiessen and Robert Bunsen who ran a current through Lithium Chloride (LiCl) in order to separate the element. The lithium element was later isolated by two chemist, William Thomas Brande and Sir Humphry Davy, through the electrolysis process of lithium oxide (Li2O).

What are the Uses of Lithium Metal in Daily Life? 

  • Aircraft manufacture: Lithium is the lightest known metals. It can be alloyed with other metals, like aluminum, copper, manganese, and cadmium to make strong, yet lightweight metal alloy for aircraft material.
  • Batteries: Lithium is often known to be used as a rechargeable battery to power up our electronic devices, such as laptops and smartphones. There are two common types of batteries that used lithium, they are Lithium batteries and Lithium-ion batteries
  • Mental health: Lithium is commonly used for mental health sectors as a treatment of bipolar disorder. It helps the bipolar disorder patients by stabilizing their wild mood swings caused by the mental illness. Lithium is also likely to be effective for major depression treatments. It is also used to treat schizophrenia and related mental disorders. Lithium is usually used to treat schizophrenia in combination with antipsychotic drugs. The element is also possibly effective when used as a treatment for impulsive aggressive behavior associated with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Industrial application: Lithium also has several industrial applications, such as heat-resistant glass and ceramics, lithium grease lubricants, and flux additives for iron, steel, and aluminum productions.
  • Pyrotechnics: Lithium compounds can be used as pyrotechnic colorants and oxidizers in fireworks and flares.
  • Air purification: There are some lithium compounds that are hygroscopic, such as lithium chloride and lithium hydroxide. They are used as desiccants for gas streams.
  • Optics: Lithium fluoride is often used in specialist optics for IR, UV, and Vacuum UV applications. It is sometimes used in focal lenses of telescopes. There is also another lithium compound that is useful in non-linear optics applications. Lithium niobite is used in that applications due to its high non-linearity property. This compound is used in more than 60% of smartphones. That’s the uses of lithium metal in daily life.

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Health risks caused by lithium metals

Lithium may be safe if it used with the right dose and under the supervision of a healthcare provider. But, it can also cause health risks for us when it is used in a wrong way. The chronicity of the health risks depends on the quantity of the lithium used. The amount of lithium in our body must be checked carefully to avoid the health risks that may occur. 

Some of the health risks caused by the lithium can be seen as listed below.

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased memory
  • Dry mouth
  • Hyperreflexia
  • Leukocytosis
  • Myoclonus
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Dazed feelings
  • Fine tremor
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Spinning sensation
  • Seizure
  • Polyuria (Frequent urination)
  • Polydypsia (the increasing of thirst)
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Vertigo
  • Renal toxicity (which may lead to kidney failure)
  • Impotence (Loss of interest in sex)
  • Unsteady walking
  • Fainting
  • Slurred speech
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Extrapyramidal side effects (such as muscle rigidity, parkinsonism, and dystonia)
  • Swelling (from the excess of fluid) in the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Skin disorders (such as acne, psoriasis, and rash)

Although lithium medication is common and proven to be effective, there are also people with certain conditions who have to take precautions because lithium medication may bring more harm than it does cure. Some of them are:

  • Pregnant woman: Lithium has an effect to poison a fetus (developing baby). It can also increase the risk of birth defects, which includes heart problem.
  • Breast-feeding mother: Lithium medication is considered unsafe for breast-feeding mother as it can enter breast milk and cause unwanted side effects for the baby.
  • People with a heart disease: People who have a heart disease is not recommended to take lithium medication as lithium may cause irregular heart rhythms. That effects may cause a problem for people who have a heart disease.
  • People who undergo surgery: Lithium can change the levels of serotonin (which is a chemical that affects the central nervous system) in our body. Those effects might interfere with surgical procedures that involve anesthesia (or other drugs that have an effect to the central nervous system). The usage of lithium as a medication should be stopped at least two weeks prior to the surgery schedule.

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Precautions for lithium medication

Some people may be allergic to lithium. To prevent its harmful effects, people should tell their doctor if they happen to have:

  • Fainting spells
  • A family history of death before the age 45
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Debilitating disease
  • A Thyroid disorder
  • Low levels of sodium in the blood

Lithium can also interact with other medicine. Therefore, people have to tell their doctor if they are taking another medication before taking lithium medication. Some drugs or medicine that can interact with lithium can be seen as listed below

  • A diuretic
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Metronidazole
  • Potassium iodide thyroid medication
  • Seizure medicine
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin, naproxen, and dicoflenac)

Indeed, that’s the brief explanation about uses of lithium metal in daily life.