What is lithium?

We explain what lithium is and where this chemical element comes from. Discovery, uses and presence in the human body.

  1. What is lithium?

Lithium (Li) is an alkaline, metallic, diamagnetic but highly reactive chemical element that rapidly oxidizes in air or water. In its pure form it is a soft metal , silvery white and extremely light, which is not in a free state in nature.

It is a sodium-like element, moderately abundant on our planet, especially in volcanic or salt routes (85% of its reserves are in Bolivian, Chilean and Argentinean territory). Along with hydrogen and helium, lithium  is one of the very first elements of the universe , whose creation would respond to the same  big bang . 

Its name comes from the Greek word for “stone”:  lithios , since it was discovered in ancient times as part of large boulders. His modern understanding however dates back to 1817, when Johann Arfvedson discovered it in a Swedish petalite mine. Its obtaining by electrolysis was much later, however, and its commercialization began in 1923 by a German company.

Like other alkali metals, lithium  is highly flammable and potentially explosive once exposed to air or, even more, to water . It is also corrosive, and in large quantities can be toxic, by inhibiting the absorption of iodine vital to thyroid hormones.

  1. Uses of lithium

The electrochemical potential of lithium is ideal for the anode of electric batteries.

Lithium has the following applications:

  • Psychoactive drug s . Lithium salts (such as lithium carbonate) are used in psychiatric medicine as a mood stabilizer, since they inhibit episodes of mania and depression associated with bipolar disease and other mood disorders.
  • Blotters . Compounds such as lithiums nitrate, lithiums chloride or lithium bromide have high hygroscopicity, that is, they greatly absorb atmospheric moisture, thus allowing air to be dried in closed compartments.
  • Debuggers . To extract carbon dioxide from the air , lithiums hydroxide is used as a scrubber in submarines and spacecraft.
  • Alloys . It is used in alloys with aluminum, cadmium, copper and manganese to make ceramics, lenses, and in aeronautical construction.
  • Lubricants . Certain lithiums salts and stearic acid, such as lithiums stearate, are used in the manufacture of lubricants for use at elevated temperatures.
  • Battery manufacturing . Its electrochemical potential makes it ideal for the anode (positive pole) of electric batteries .
  1. Lithium in the Periodic Table

Lithium is found along with the rest of the alkali metals such as sodium and potassium.

Lithiums is represented by the chemical symbol Li and is found in the Periodic Table in group 1, together with the rest of the alkali metals such as sodium (Na), potassium (K), rubidium (Rb), cesium (Cs) and french (Fr). Its atomic number is 3.

  1. Lithium in the human body

Lithiums can cause damage to the human body , for example, by coming into contact with the skin. Being a powerful desiccant, it quickly removes moisture from it, causing burns.

The intake of compounds with lithiums in controlled quantities can be beneficial in the face of certain psychiatric conditions, since it acts on certain neurotransmitters, stabilizing the mood.

However, it increases cell permeability by replacing sodium in cell membranes , preventing the realization of the ATPase sodium substrate substrate pump, which is toxic on a large scale.

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