For nearly 30 years, doctors have been prescribing Naltrexone at a low dose—just one tenth of the original strength meant to treat drug addiction—as an effective treatment for autoimmune disease.
Clinical studies show Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN) yields amazing outcomes in immune regulation, pain reduction and symptom management. It’s been studied as a novel treatment for Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, and I’ve personally prescribed it as a way to Optimize and Support my autoimmune patients during the Fully Functional™ process.
Yet many of my patients are completely unfamiliar with this treatment, and what’s worse, they often report their primary care practitioners have never heard of LDN.
In this post, we’ll explore why LDN may be the “missing link” in your symptom management plan.
What Exactly does Low-Dose Mean?
Naltrexone was originally developed in the 1960’s, and approved by the FDA in the 1980’s as a treatment for opioid addiction. As an opioid receptor antagonist, Naltrexone prevents opioids from affecting neural receptors in the brain and means that opioids (like heroin) have little to no effect when taken along with Naltrexone.
Doctors quickly discovered that Naltrexone wasn’t an ideal treatment for opioid addiction thanks to a range of unpleasant side effects. But researchers also found that a lower dose of the drug could have effects opposite of its intended treatment. Whereas a 50-100 mg dose of Naltrexone blocked opioid receptors, a lower dose, typically between 1.5 and 4.5 mg, actually increased the body’s own opioid production.
Users of this lower dose of Naltrexone reported pain management and a reduction in inflammation. Researchers believe LDN reduces inflammation by affecting the activity of glial cells in our central nervous system, which in turn reduces inflammation and pain. It may also regulate T-regulatory cells, which affect our immune response.
Though it’s only been about a decade since the first LDN trial in humans was published, this treatment has gained a lot of traction in the natural health community, and it’s one of our most common treatment recommendations.
What Can LDN Treat?
LDN has incredible potential for the treatment of many different chronic illnesses, especially those that are autoimmune in nature. Unfortunately, clinical research has been slow to examine this promising treatment.
One of the most heavily researched applications of LDN is in the treatment of fibromyalgia. In one study, a single-blind trial, LDN reduced fibromyalgia symptoms by 30% over a placebo, improved patient’s’ tolerance to heat and touch, and had very few adverse side effects.
In another double-blind and randomized trial (the most rigorous type of clinical trial), LDN improved patients’ pain, mood and quality of life significantly better than a placebo. For fibromyalgia patients living with chronic pain, this treatment is safe and often effective.
LDN’s efficacy in reducing multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms is still being determined. In a pilot study conducted in 2010, LDN substantially improved quality of life in multiple sclerosis patients, and in another small clinical trial, it reduced participants’ fatigue and depression with only mild side effects like sleep disturbances, agitation and urinary tract infections.
Some research has also focused on LDN as a potential treatment for Crohn’s disease. In one of these trials, focused on children aged 8-17, it seemed to reduce disease activity and even prompt remission. After 16 weeks, 25% had achieved remission and 67% showed improvement.
Since no large-scale studies have focused on LDN as a treatment for Crohn’s, the larger medical community is reluctant to accept this treatment. But given that it’s relatively inexpensive and has few side effects, we believe it will eventually come to be seen as one of the most promising treatments for this and other chronic diseases.
Incorporating LDN Into Your Treatment Plan
Low-dose Naltrexone is an ideal addition to many of our patients’ Fully Functional™ healing plans. It’s safe and effective, and often, the most annoying symptom our patients report with its use is vivid dreaming or sleep disturbance.
So, where might it fit into your treatment plan?
When we take on a new patient, our goal is always to work together to help them live a Fully Functional™ life. Our first step is to Identify underlying root issues like an autoimmune process, food sensitivities or lifestyle factors that are contributing to a disease state. By Reducing these root issues, we can often decrease inflammation and vastly improve health.
Compounded prescription medications like LDN come in later, once we’ve done the investigative work that’s key to Functional Medicine. During these phases, we work to Optimize and Support your body’s healing—this is where we find LDN most helpful. Along with appropriate supplementation and lifestyle modifications, we find it makes a big difference in our patients’ quality of life.
We typically recommend that patients begin at a low dose of 1.5 mg (sometimes less) and work up to a dose that does not negatively affect their sleep, typically up to 4.5 mg. We carefully monitor lab work during this period to observe changes in antibody production or other measures of inflammation, like high sensitivity C-reactive Protein (hs-CRP). It’s important to work with a doctor who understands Functional Medicine to make sure you’re getting the most out of your LDN treatment.
A 3-month course of LDN typically runs less than $90, and I often find it’s a worthwhile investment for my clients. Some of our most successful stories of healing come from patients with immune dysregulation such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, PANS/PANDAS as well as other inflammatory processes who have incorporated LDN into their routine.
If you’re interested in achieving a better quality of life while living with chronic disease, schedule your appointment today! Together we’ll determine whether complementary treatments like LDN are right for you and get you on the path to becoming Fully Functional™.