Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist (a drug that blocks opioid receptors) which is used in the treatment of narcotic and alcohol addiction. In doses of about 1/10 of those normally used, it only results in temporary blockage of these receptors. This stimulates the body to produce more of its own endogenous opioids, resulting in powerful immunomodulatory and neuroprotective actions.
This is the foundation of low dose naltrexone (LDN) therapy, which has been used since the 1980s in the treatment of e.g. autoimmune diseases (especially multiple sclerosis), HIV infection, neurodegenerative diseases and most types of cancer. It has the benefits of being very safe, well-tolerated and inexpensive. Unlike most treatments for autoimmune disease, it is not an immunosuppressant.
Low dose naltrexone was pioneered by the neurologist Bernard Bihari in the early 1980s, when he was studying medications used for drug and alcohol withdrawal. He noticed that very small doses of naltrexone (initially 3 mg) taken at bedtime only blocked the opioid receptors transiently, which stimulated the body to produce more of its endogenous opioids and produced no significant side effects.
Bihari tried LDN as a treatment for HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, two conditions that have been shown to be associated with low levels of beta endorphin, one of the most important endogenous opioids. In some of his AIDS patients the blood levels of beta endorphin as much as tripled when using low dose naltrexone.
Patients also experienced marked clinical improvement. The MS symptoms (especially fatigue) were relieved and the illness progression seemed to halt. Most patients never experienced a single MS attack after the initiation of low dose naltrexone. Patients infected with HIV had their viral counts drop radically and their CD4 counts subsequently went up. As a result the rates opportunistic infections and AIDS related malignancies decreased.
Encouraged by his success Bihari and other doctors began trying LDN for other conditions, such as other autoimmune illnesses and cancer, often with great results. The support from the patient community has been overwhelming. Patients with MS have collected money for clinical trials and there have even been three conferences on LDN and the fourth one is scheduled for October 2008.
A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that 89% of patients with Crohn's disease were improved on LDN and 67% achieved a full remission. There are clinical trials currently running for multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, autism, fibromyalgia, pancreatic cancer and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (head and neck cancer). A large HIV/AIDS study is also running in Mali, West Africa.
For more information read three useful articles:
Revolutionary Treatment Gives Hope For the Chronically Ill
The Promise of Low Dose Naltrexone Therapy- review of Elaine Moore's and Samantha Wilkinson's LDN Textbook
Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) For Fibromyalgia
Plus a useful Suite 101 update which also links to the Low Dose Naltrexone website.
Return to more fibromylagia articles
First Published November 2009
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