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Taking Lithium: 7 Foods and Drinks That Help Me Feel Better

I enjoy writing about experiences from my own life so that my tips may help others.

Taking steps to feeling better allows us to enjoy life more fully

Taking steps to feeling better allows us to enjoy life more fully

I have been taking lithium carbonate for a while now and it helps me tremendously in the management of my mental health. However, my doctor told me to avoid certain foods while taking lithium because the medication does come with certain risks and side effects. In following his advice, I understood what to avoid but found it difficult to understand which foods or drinks would really help me feel better. Through further studying the medication, and responding to the reactions of my own body, I realized that there are seven foods and drinks in particular that make taking lithium a lot easier to tolerate.

1. Water

If you've been taking lithium for some time, then this one will probably come as no surprise to you. But I can't stress enough how much better I feel when I drink the right amount of water. Experts recommend drinking 8-12 glasses of water per day and, as I found out, there's good reasoning behind it.

When I first started taking the medication, I experienced excessive thirst and increased urination for quite some time. I learned that this can be a sign that the lithium dose is either too high, or that the kidneys are having trouble eliminating the drug from the body. Drinking plenty of water helps the body to adjust.

I find it very beneficial to drink one large glass of water when I take my lithium medication, which is always at the same time every day, with dinner. The water helps the medication to go down more easily and settle better in my stomach, also minimizing any nausea.

2. Herbal Tea

Herbal tea is a great alternative to water, and it can be especially soothing for people, like me, who experience the gastrointestinal side effects of taking lithium.

It's also a good alternative to alcohol. Generally speaking, you're not supposed to drink alcohol while on lithium, so herbal tea can help you enjoy a relaxing treat without having the same effect as regular soda or alcohol.

Pay close attention to whether your herbal tea has caffeine in it. Having too much caffeine is not a good idea while taking lithium. This is because caffeine can decrease lithium levels and also decrease the effectiveness of the medication. Stopping caffeine altogether, however, may increase lithium levels. For these reasons, check with your doctor before making any big changes to your caffeine intake.

Personally, I choose a peppermint and licorice caffeine-free tea and enjoy it as a delicious alternative to water, while counting it as part of my daily water intake. Peppermint tea has been shown in studies as an effective treatment for diarrhea, while licorice is known to help soothe nausea related to gastric discomfort. Together, this combination provides a soothing way to ease the gastrointestinal side effects of taking lithium.

A soothing cup of decaffeinated herbal tea

A soothing cup of decaffeinated herbal tea

3. Lean Meats

Another potential side effect of lithium is gradual weight gain. When I first started taking the medication, I noticed that I was feeling sluggish and sleepy all the time. This made it hard to stay active, but it also made it difficult to lose weight!

I learned that lean meats such as chicken and turkey breast are low in calories but packed with protein, which is essential for maintaining muscle mass. Lean proteins are also high in B vitamins that help keep your nervous system healthy (which is so important when you're taking lithium). Lean meat also contains very little fat or cholesterol: perfect for people who need to keep their cholesterol under control!

Instead of buying processed meats, I always choose to buy raw lean meat that I can add my own seasoning to. Since sodium can increase fluid retention (a common side effect of taking lithium) eating the right amount of salt is crucial if you want to stay healthy while on this medication. My doctor's advice was to keep my salt intake steady, so by buying meat that hasn't already been seasoned I can be in control of the amount of salt I eat.

4. Eggs

Eggs are a great (and inexpensive) source of protein, vitamins A, B12, D, and E. Omega-3 fatty acids are also plentiful in eggs, making them a healthy and nutritional source of food.

Eggs can be very versatile to cook. My favorite ways are poached (which is ideal if you're trying to cut calories and avoid weight gain) or hard-boiled and then chopped up into a salad. You could also toss them in with some vegetables to make an omelet.

In the same way as I can control my salt intake with lean meats, I can do the same with eggs. I often enjoy eggs and avocado on whole-grain toast with just a sprinkling of salt. Accompanied by a large glass of water on the side, that provides me with a well-balanced meal that leaves me feeling great.

Eggs and avocado on whole grain toast

Eggs and avocado on whole grain toast

5. Vegetables

Eating cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and brussels sprouts, is an easy way to feel better while taking lithium. These foods provide high levels of nutrients which help in maintaining good health and in general. In addition, they are high in fiber and vitamin C which helps promote serotonin production and therefore happiness!

6. Milk

If you've been taking lithium for a long time, then you may have experienced the side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. One of the best ways to combat these symptoms is by drinking a lot of fluids (as we discussed earlier) and milk is another great choice.

Milk contains a protein that helps reduce the amount of acid produced in your stomach after eating or drinking something acidic. In addition to helping with nausea, this also means that if you take your lithium medication with milk, then your stomach shouldn't feel so upset afterward.

7. Whole Grains

Whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa, can help with both constipation and diarrhea side effects because they contain fiber. Fiber not only adds bulk to your stool but also absorbs water in your body, keeping things moving along smoothly. Whole grains also have vitamins that help maintain a healthy digestive system, including B vitamins and magnesium.

As long as you don't have any allergies or sensitivities to these foods or any other food, they're an excellent choice for easing your symptoms and making you feel better while taking your lithium medication.

Whole grains are associated with various health benefits

Whole grains are associated with various health benefits

Conclusion

Taking lithium can be a challenging time, particularly in the early stages as the body gets used to the ups and downs of accepting the medication. Side effects can be more unstable when establishing the right dose and while adjusting to a diet that makes you feel better.

Choosing the right foods and drinks to help your therapy will be unique to you and it's always important to follow the advice of your doctor to maintain safe lithium levels as well as to avoid other complications such as thyroid or kidney problems. When considering the foods you need to avoid, maybe try out the seven foods and drinks listed above and see if they help make you feel better, too.

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2022 Louise