# What was the lithium concentration in 1940's 7-Up?

I just came across this article in the New York Times, where lithium (or more correctly, lithium salts), a known anti-depressant had been added to beverages in the 1940's. They also mention that a study found negative correlation between the suicide rate of a county and the amount of lithium in its tap water, despite the fact that the concentration is relatively low ($\pu{<0.170 mg L^-1}$), especially compared to the doses administered in therapy.

Now I was wondering what the lithium content in those beverages was (obviously, they are not sold anymore), but couldn't find anything?

The article mentions that you can still buy lithia water ($\pu{0.50 mg L^-1}$), but I'm more interested in the 1940's 7-Up mentioned, as those probably had different food standards at the time they were made.

• – Faded Giant Mar 22 '16 at 14:37
• Have you considered contacting 7-up (owned by Dr Pepper in the US and Pepsi everywhere else) and asking them? There's a chance they might give some sort of answer if you say it's for a school project or something like that. As far as I have seen, the general internet only seems to know that there was lithium citrate in the drink rather than how much was in it. – Tyberius Apr 15 '17 at 14:38

Given that the formula was a trade secret and that lithium was removed from the product ~70 years ago, the likelihood of this question being answered by providing a detailed formula seems remote. Note in addition that the formula might have evolved to reduce cost or improve market reception. You might therefore want to settle for an estimate of the upper limit on the lithium citrate concentration, which is relatively easy to provide.

A basic estimate can be made based on (1) the historical limits of sodium concentration in sodas; (2) the current composition of 7-up; and (3) the relative saltiness (taste) of lithium citrate versus sodium.

First one can attempt to determine what range of sodium concentration makes for a flavorful soda. Here is a quote:

The amount of sodium in soda varies depending on the type. A well-known brand of cola has 46 milligrams of sodium in a 12-ounce can. The same sized can of root beer has 71 milligrams; a can of lemon-lime soda has 64 milligrams; a 12-ounce can of all-natural soda contains 36 milligrams. These are just examples, and the amounts in particular brands of soda may differ. It's best to check the label of your favorite soda to make sure.

This leads to a range of ~150-200 mg/L sodium concentration.

Next, consider the current formula for 7-up (in the USA):

in 12 fl oz (355 mL): 40-50 mg sodium, 60 mg potassium

The current formula contains ~110-140 mg/L sodium and ~170 mg/L potassium.

Finally, consider the saltiness of lithium citrate versus sodium. Lithium citrate was the salt form of lithium in the 7-up recipe according to a number of sources including the Wikipedia:

The soft drink 7Up was originally named "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda" when it was formulated in 1929 because it contained lithium citrate. The beverage was a patent medicine marketed as a cure for hangover. Lithium citrate was removed from 7Up in 1948.[Ref 4]

and this one (which cites Ref 1):

As to why “7Up,” C.L. Grigg never explained how he came up with the cryptic name. Several theories exist about its origin: "7Up was the product of seven ingredients. (Which, in a way, was at least true with regard to the classes of ingredients in that original formulation: sugar, carbonated water, essences of lemon and lime oils, citric acid, sodium citrate, and lithium citrate.)"

Lithium and potassium are among few cations with a salty flavor similar to that of sodium, albeit weaker. Citrate reduces the saltiness further. According to Ref 2, the saltiness of lithium and potassium can be estimated to be ~0.4 and 0.6 that of sodium, repectively, while Ref 3 explains that citrate has an inhibitory effect.

Consider now the potassium concentration (~170 mg/L) in the current formula of 7-up. Potassium is added as the citrate salt, and could be replaced with the lithium salt with little change in taste perception, according to what is reported on the relative saltiness of the cations and citrate salts. This suggests that if the taste of the beverage has remained reasonably constant since inception, it is not unreasonable to estimate an upper bound of ~200 mg/L in the concentration of lithium citrate (replacing the potassium salt) in the orginal recipe.

Note this is based entirely on the taste perception and not on any medical implications of consuming lithium at such concentrations. Lithia water (a brand of spring water sold in the USA) contains only ~0.5 mg/L of lithium. For reference, an online medical advice site suggests that a dose for treatment of depression is ~60 mg of lithium daily. So a dose of ~60 mg lithium citrate per serving certainly seems high relative to lithium-rich spring water but is just about a typical clinical dose.

References

1. Rodengen, Jeffrey. The Legend of Dr. Pepper/7Up. Fort Lauderdale: Write Stuff Syndicate, 1995. ISBN 0-945903-49-9.
2. McLaughlin, S., Margolskee, R.F.. The Sense of Taste. American Scientist, 82, 538-545 (1994).
3. C.M.D. Man. Technological functions of salt in food products. in Reducing Salt in Foods, Woodhead Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84569-018-2.
4. Gielen, Marcel; Edward R. T. Tiekink (2005). Metallotherapeutic drugs and metal-based diagnostic agents: The use of metals in medicine. John Wiley and Sons. p. 3. ISBN 0-470-86403-6.
• Thanks for the answer, that is a very interesting take on how to estimate the lithium content. Since you would likely drink more than just one serving per day the lithium content appears quite high, but googling a bit it also appears that the doses in therapy seem to be a bit higher (300-900 mg lithium carbonate). Anyway, it seems that 7Up contained non-negligible amounts of lithium. – snurden Nov 26 '19 at 8:19
• @snurden Yes, if the concentration in 7-up really was that high you wouldn't want to dring too much :-) The Li concentration would be ~1/5 of total carbonate concentration, so ~60-180 mg/L. Anyway, on a related topic I was just reading that Mt Fuji water contains vanadium: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15663202 – Buck Thorn Nov 26 '19 at 8:31