The Lowdown on Low-Dose Naltrexone

“I am a registered nurse and certified nurse anesthetist. Nine years ago I came down with severe fatigue and achiness and was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. My internist tried anything and everything—heavy metals, sleep studies, supplements, and more. For two years there were days I never got out of bed. Of course, this put an end to my career.

“In December 2008, I read about low-dose naltrexone (LDN) in your newsletter. I got a prescription for 3 mg, and within five days, I felt like a different person. My fibro pain was gone, and over the next two months my fatigue subsided as well. Today, I continue to have the same great relief. Forty or so of the patients I work with in a support group are using LDN, all with some degree of relief. It seems like those with rheumatoid arthritis take longer but have a slow, steady climb.

“It boggles my mind that I had this drug in my anesthesia cart for over 30 years, not knowing that it would return my life to the way it was 10 years ago.” — Joy, Michigan

Low Dose, High Degree of Effectiveness

This letter is just one of the many stories I’ve received from patients and subscribers praising low-dose naltrexone. Many of them, like Joy, describe remarkable improvements in chronic fatigue or autoimmune disorders. Maria, who has had multiple sclerosis for several years, has had significantly fewer episodes of urinary incontinence since starting on LDN, and Anna, whose ulcerative colitis caused her to waste away to 88 pounds, is thrilled with her rapid nine-pound weight gain.

But LDN also helps a wide range of other conditions. Lou says that since she started taking it, she no longer gets her “annual colds,” and D.G. hasn’t had a cold sore in the three years she’s been on the drug. LDN has been shown to boost mood and energy and to prevent allergies in sensitive individuals. It’s reported to reduce the symptoms and progression of Parkinson’s disease and improve social interaction in children with autism. There’s even a new scientific paper confirming LDN’s benefits in the treatment of cancer.

Broad Immune System Enhancement

How can one drug have so many positive effects? It all has to do with the endorphin system. Endorphins are naturally occurring molecules that are similar in structure to morphine and other opioid drugs. Although endorphins are best known for boosting mood and blunting pain, they are active in almost every cell in the body. One endorphin, opioid growth factor (OGF), which regulates the immune system, is the target of LDN.

LDN binds to OGF receptors, which temporarily blocks OGF utilization. Due to the perceived shortage of OGF, there is a rebound effect where cells dramatically increase production of OGF and receptor sensitivity. Once the drug is excreted—and this only takes a couple of hours since the dose is so low—the OGF receptors are able to utilize all the extra OGF circulating in the blood. This has profound effects on several aspects of immune function. It puts the brakes on undifferentiated growth of cancer cells. It also prevents immune system overactivity, which is the crux of autoimmune disorders, and blunts the release of inflammatory and neurotoxic chemicals in the brain. Medical conditions marked by immune dysfunction are associated with markedly low levels of OGF, and LDN simply restores these disease-fighting endorphins to optimal levels.

Cancer in Remission

A promising area of treatment is cancer. Burton Berkson, MD, and colleagues published a paper last year describing four case histories of patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer who were treated with LDN plus intravenous alpha lipoic acid (a potent antioxidant). Before we go on, you need to understand that the prospects for patients with pancreatic cancer are terrible. Most of them live only a few months after diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate is a dismal four percent. It’s essentially a “get your affairs in order” prognosis.

Two of the patients Dr. Berkson reported on, each with well-documented pancreatic cancer that had metastasized to the liver, were alive and well 78 and 39 months after presenting for treatment. A third patient who had the same diagnosis was disease-free, as evidenced by a PET scan, five months after beginning LDN/alpha lipoic acid therapy. The final patient had a history of B-cell lymphoma and prostate adenocarcinoma in addition to metastatic pancreatic cancer. After four months of treatment, his PET scan demonstrated no signs of cancer.

I’m also aware of good results in patients with melanoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and cancer of the breast, lung, prostate, kidney, and colon. Let me make it clear that I am not suggesting that LDN is a cure-all for any kind of cancer. But this safe, inexpensive drug is certainly a reasonable adjunctive therapy.

Autoimmune Disorders Respond Well

Autoimmune disorders also respond well to LDN. A recent pilot study found that LDN improves mood, cognition, and pain scores in patients with progressive multiple sclerosis. And researchers from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine demonstrated that 67 percent of patients with Crohn’s disease who were treated with 4.5 mg of LDN for 12 weeks went into remission. Results of a follow-up to this study are expected to be presented this month, and the lead researcher, Jill Smith, MD, is very optimistic about LDN’s potential in the treatment of all inflammatory bowel diseases.

The buzz from patients is even better than the studies, which are limited because there’s no profit motive to fund research on an inexpensive drug with an expired patent. (In fact, patients are so enthusiastic that they’ve raised funds to help pay for completed and ongoing studies.) When I last wrote about LDN in December 2008, I told you about Vicki Finlayson, who suffered with debilitating multiple sclerosis. After 10 years of unbearable pain, horrible fatigue, growing depression, and dependence on Vicodin and morphine to control her pain, Vicki learned about LDN. Once she started taking it—after her doctor initially refused to prescribe it and she had to wean herself off opioid painkillers—she got her life back. She’s been back at work a year and a half now, she’s off all other drugs, and she’s feeling great.

A World of Possibilities

Ian Zagon, PhD, also of Penn State, is the scientist who discovered the LDN-opioid link way back in 1979, and he’s the driving force behind most of the research on both OGF and LDN. OGF has actually been synthesized, but because it cannot be absorbed when taken orally, it must be administered by injection. Nearly 100 studies have examined OGF and its role in cancer and other conditions. This endorphin has been found to regulate cell proliferation in the most common types of cancer, inhibit tumor growth, and increase survival.

Although OGF is not available in the US at this time, LDN is widely available. All it requires is a prescription from a doctor—but there’s the rub. Naltrexone (brand name Revia), which is sold in drugstores in 50 mg tablets, is approved for alcohol, heroin, and other opioid drug withdrawal. Ask your doc for a prescription for 3 mg to boost your immune function, and he’ll likely think you’re crazy. No drug company is promoting an unpatented drug that costs $20–$30 per month. None of them even manufacture it. LDN has to be made to order from a compounding pharmacy.

Although it’s perfectly legal to prescribe an FDA-approved drug for off-label use, many docs are reluctant to do so. We’ve had patients come to California from all over the country because their physicians refused to prescribe this safe, inexpensive drug. But as Joy says in the conclusion of her letter, “It is a shame that something so low-dose, low-cost, and with no side effects cannot get the attention it needs. It would help so many!”

From: Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.