Low Dose Naltrexone has been hailed as a 'wonder' drug by many who are taking it and seeing big improvements in their MS symptoms. It is a medical treatment but in such a low dose that it has minimal side effects and even these tend to be very short lived. It still seems to be quite a controversial treatment. For instance, my neurologist completely dismissed it when I asked him to prescribe it for me. He made the whole thing sound like a farce that he could never support. The medical community, I have learnt, is very much opposed to anything that is not mainstream even if the evidence is clear that it is helping.
I first heard about LDN from a doctor I went to see in South Africa. He practises alternative medicine and so gave me a whole lot of advise about how he thought I could stay well, naturally. Much of the diet he recommended was not right for me but he was the one who discovered that my vitamin D levels were critically low and introduced me to the methylcobalamin form of vitamin B12. These are two supplements that have played a key role in the management of my MS. I was keen to give LDN a try but I didn't end up getting it from him because it needed to be specially ordered from the States and I left the country before it arrived. Admin hassles! Nonetheless, I am still interested in seeing how it can further improve my symptoms, in conjunction with the MS Diet. I also wanted to introduce LDN to you in in case you would really benefit it. Let's explore what it is and how it can help.
What Is LDN?
Naltrexone is a drug which is referred to as an opiate antagonist. Its normal use is to treat opiate addicts addicted to heroin or morphine. The usual dose for this purpose can be up to 150 mg a day. In the mid 1980's, Dr. Bihari, a practicing neuro-physician in New York, discovered that a much smaller dose of Naltrexone had excellentt therapeutic effects for a variety of diseases including MS. LDN was first used, in the treatment of MS, in 1985 and it was given at a dose of 3mg a day initially. Since then it has been reported that people who take LDN have experienced a range of improvements including: reduced spasm and fatigue, improved bladder control, improved heat tolerance, improvements in mobility, sleep, pain, tremor and other symptoms.
How Does LDN Work?
Endorphins are natural pain killers in the brain and LDN works by blocking the endorphin receptors in the body for opiate drugs (heroin, morphine, oxycontin). This results in a build up of endorphins in the nerve synapses which produces an increase in the production of endorphins. More endorphins in the body help to reduce painful symptoms and promote an increase in the sense of wellbeing.
Boosts Immune System
The increase in endorphins also stimulates the immune system, promoting an overall increase in the numbers of T lymphocytes. This increase in T-cell numbers seems to have the effect of restoring a more normal balance of the T-cells. This results in the effects of the disease process being significantly reduced.
This information is contrary to the common belief that MS is due to over-activity of the immune system. Auto-immune conditions are actually prompted by a reduction in immune system activity. It is the reduction in number of the suppressor T-cells within the immune system that permits the damaging CD4, helper T-cells to do their harm. During a relapse, the overall number of T-cells is reduced, the normal balance of helper to suppressor T-cells is disrupted and the CD-4, helper, T-cells tend to predominate. With LDN it has been demonstrated that the numbers of T-cells may increase by more than 300%. So, it seems that LDN boosts the immune system, activating the body's own natural defences.
For those with RRMS, the number of relapses is reduced, and the rate of progression of the disease is diminished. Dr Bihari’s research suggests that no-one receiving this treatment as a regular therapy, has experienced a relapse while actually on the treatment. Occasionally however, there may be a short-term increase in symptoms during, for example, periods of infection or stress, arising from previously active lesions already present in the brain or spinal cord.
PPMS & SPMS
The great news is that in chronic, progressive MS (either primary or secondary) there appears to be a similar reduction in the progression of disease symptoms.
LDN & MS Diet
It does also appear that LDN works best in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle. Eliminating junk food and including an abundance of natural food is still the most important part of staying well. It is also important to supplement vital nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3s and vitamin B12. If you are interested in trying LDN, I would recommend that you get your diet right first.
Yes there are side effects but they seem to be minimal and don't carry on for too long. The benefits of LDN are due to a reactive response because of a temporary inhibition of endorphin receptors. Because of this, during the initial stage of treatment there may be a brief period when the symptoms of the condition increase. This usually lasts no more than a few days. Occasionally, if symptoms are severe, or more prolonged than expected, then the current dose may be more than is appropriate to gain a positive response. In this instance, the dose is reduced in order to diminish the intensity of this initial response (Dr. Bob Lawrence: The MS Resource Centre).
Introductory symptoms, on starting this treatment, may include disturbed sleep, occasionally with vivid, bizarre and disturbing dreams, and possibly with increases in tiredness, fatigue, muscle spasm or pain.This could be because LDN is taken at night and works between 2am and 4am. This is when the endorphins are piling up which might temporarily increase the activity levels in the brain. It seems that the body adjusts to this and sleep returns to normal quite quickly.
Contraindications and Precautions
Because LDN stimulates the immune system it should not be used along with steroids, beta interferon, methotrexate, azathioprine, mitoxantrone or any other immune-suppressant drug. So basically, if you are on disease modifying drugs, you need to come off them fully before trying LDN.
Summing It All Up
It seems that LDN in itself is not the miracle worker, it is just the catalyst that helps our bodies to get back into balance and heal themselves. Despite these promising findings it must be emphasised that a positive response to this treatment cannot be assured or guaranteed. We are all so different in our make up and what works well for Sally may not work as well for Jane. In my opinion, it is worth a try, especially if you suffer from fatigue and bladder related issues, for which it seems to be the most effective. It is also quite inexpensive. It can be difficult, however, to find a doctor who is forward thinking enough to prescribe it. If you live in the UK, I would recommend Dr. Bob Lawrence who is happy to do a telephone consult, prescribe LDN and order it for you. Please email me directly if you would like his contact details. If you would like more detailed information about LDN, you can have a look at the following sites: http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org or http://www.ms-uk.org.
I hope this has given you more information about what all this LDN fuss is about. Please remember that I am not a medical doctor and I am not, professionally, recommending LDN as a treatment for MS. I'll leave this to the doctors who can also decide on the dose you need to start with and monitor your progress. In my opinion, though, it does seem to have genuine therapeutic benefits which might just be the extra boost some of us need to live a better quality of life, especially when combined with the MS diet.
If you need help and support to take the next step with your lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
Love and nutrients,