When we think about our highest intention in the natural healing of disease, our goal is to stimulate the body-mind to be the healer – to be the driver of the healing work. There can be significant consequences when we try to force changes in the body – even with the best of intentions. This is a much more of an issue when treating chronic disease.
What are commonly called “side effects” are just some of the consequences of “directed” healing. Antibiotics for chronic infections are a good example. It is necessary to reduce the bacterial count in infections. Thus the goal of antibiotics is to kill off as many bacteria as possible. However, the body has many of its own mechanisms to do this.
The issue with antibiotics is they kill off many important “good” bugs (located in the gut flora which lines our intestines). The gut flora is estimated to house approximately 70% of the active immune system. Some studies have shown that there may be long term negative consequences on our gut flora and beyond[1. Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria., Blaser M., Source, Department of Medicine, New York University Langone Medical Center, New York, New York 10016, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org],[2. Dethlefsen L, Relman DA. Incomplete recovery and individualized responses of the human distal gut microbiota to repeated antibiotic perturbation. Proceedings of the NationalAcademyof Sciences of the United States of America. 2011;108 Suppl:4554-4561.]. In some cases of chronic infections, using antibiotics may kill off bacteria, but at the same time, it is weakening the immune system – which is what we rely on to prevent infections in the first place. There are instances where antibiotics are a good choice. However, it is wiser to look for ways that engage our body’s own intelligence to solve the problem.
The body-mind has its own competent and complex system to maintain health and balance (called homeostasis). Homeostasis is a beautiful thing. For instance, our bodies “know” that too much glucose in the blood stream can be dangerous. It utilizes a hormone called insulin to help tuck away any excess glucose and convert some of that glucose into glycogen for later use. This is one way that an optimal balance is maintained.
When it comes to various drugs that are taken orally, the body also needs to maintain a balance. For instance, Prozac acts to enable more serotonin to circulate in the brain. The homeostatic mechanism in the brain recognizes the excess serotonin and reduces the number of serotonin receptors and reduces serotonin production[3. van Geffen E, Hugtenburg J, Heerdink E, van Hulten R, Egberts A. Discontinuation symptoms in users of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors in clinical practice: tapering versus abrupt discontinuation. European Journal Of Clinical Pharmacology. June 2005;61(4):303-307.]. In other words, it detects an imbalance and works to correct it.
Homeostasis keeps us alive, and also optimizes and enables so many millions of processes in the body – all automatically. But what if we could actually “trick” the body’s homeostatic mechanism to our benefit? Enter Low Dose Naltrexone – LDN.
Naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist[4. Martin W, Jasinski D, Mansky P. Naltrexone, an antagonist for the treatment of heroin dependence. Effects in man. Archives Of General Psychiatry . June 1973;28(6):784-791.]. It blocks opioid receptors so that when a heroin addict shoots up, no high is achieved. When Naltrexone is used in ultra low doses (LDN), a funny thing happens. A drug whose primary purpose was to discourage substance abuse gets transformed[5. Low-Dose Naltrexone May Help Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Townsend Letter . October 2009;(315):32-36. Available from: Alt HealthWatch,Ipswich,MA. Accessed June 10, 2012.].
Our bodies create compounds that are very much like opiates in structure and function (called endogenous opioids or endorphins). These endorphins have many functions other than just mood alteration or pain reduction.
Our bodies manufacture many different endorphins and their functions include pain modulation[6. Terenius L. Endorphins and modulation of pain. Adv Neurol 1982; 33:59-64.], immune system regulation[7. Jankovic BD. Neuroimmunomodulation: From phenomenology to molecular evidence. Ann NY Acad Sci 1994;741:1-38], cellular growth modulation[8. Zagon, I.S., E. Zagon and P.J. McLaughlin. 1989. Opioids and the developing organism: A comprehensive bibliography, 1984-1988. Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 13:207-235], mood maintenance[9. Olson G a, Olson RD, Kastin a J. Endogenous opiates: 1992. Peptides. 1993;14(6):1339-78.], & cellular blood supply (called angiogenesis)[10. Blebea, J., J.E. Mazo, T.K. Kihara, J.-H. Vu, P.J. McLaughlin, R.G. Atnip, and I.S. Zagon. 2000. Opioid growth factor modulates angiogenesis. J. Vascular Surg. 32:364-373].
Of particular interest for cancer patients is an endorphin called Opioid Growth Factor (OGF). This oddly-named endorphin effects tumor growth[11. Donahue R, McLaughlin P, Zagon I. The opioid growth factor (OGF) and low dose naltrexone (LDN) suppress human ovarian cancer progression in mice. Gynecologic Oncology. August 2011;122(2):382-388.]. When it’s increased, it tends to slow and even halt the growth of tumors[12. Donahue R, McLaughlin P,ZagonI.Low-dose naltrexone targets the opioid growth factor-opioid growth factor receptor pathway to inhibit cell proliferation: mechanistic evidence from a tissue culture model. Experimental Biology And Medicine (Maywood,N.J.). September 1, 2011;236(9):1036-1050.].
When Naltrexone is given in its normal dose – 50mg or higher, it blocks opioid receptors for many hours effectively cutting off any pleasure to be had by drug use. However, when LDN is given in tiny doses it blocks the opioid receptors for just an hour or so. During this time, our homeostatic mechanism recognizes that endorphin production is subnormal.
As a consequence it does two wonderful things: it raises production of endorphins as well as creates more opioid receptors. Endorphins are made by the body between 10 PM and 2 AM each night. So if LDN is taken in this time window, the body can increase endorphin amounts by up to 300%![13. http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/gazorpa/interview.html]
The elegance of this approach is that we are utilizing the body’s homeostasis to create the effect we want – increasing endorphin levels. In other words, naltrexone is just being used as a catalyst; the body’s homeostasis is what does the work. In essence, it’s the “side-effect” of the LDN that we are aiming for.
Increasing endogenous opiate production is important because it can help to improve immune function, regulate mood (with both anxiety & depression), and reduce pain. There are many anecdotal reports of significant improvements and even reported cures of cancer, AIDS, auto immune conditions (colitis, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, MS, etc.)[14. http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/index.htm#What_diseases_has_it_been_useful_for]
There are a few clinical trials that confirm the potential of LDN[15. http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/ldn_trials.htm]. However, it’s a drug that falls between the cracks. Naltrexone has fallen out of patent, so no one will make any money from it. Our medical system is profit driven, so treatments that have potential but have no financial gain are mostly ignored.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for the drug’s efficacy to be proven. It’s one of the safest treatments to use because the dose is too low to cause toxicity. It’s also very cheap – a typical cost at a compounding pharmacist is one dollar a day.
Because of the above reasons, I prescribe LDN regularly. No, it doesn’t work for everyone, but it does help many patients with a number of health issues. Most can afford it and its easy to take – only one pill before bed. In addition, it is not something I tend to prescribe as the sole treatment, but is important to include in the treatment for cancer, auto-immune, and patients suffering from depression and/or anxiety.
Our goal in natural healing is to encourage self-healing – there are known and unknown consequences to “forcing” the healing process. The healing of chronic disease is best done within the confines of our innate homeostatic intelligence. That intelligence is a vital balancing process that is both life-saving and life enhancing.
We can intelligently use our balancing mechanisms to stimulate an increase in our endorphin production. Our endorphins comprise a fundamental system with many powerful healing effects. Naltrexone – when prescribed in ultra low doses – has been shown to heal many chronic ailments due to its central role in the body-mind.
Naltrexone is a drug, but used in low doses, it can provide an effective way to stimulate the body-mind to heal itself. LDN is the paradox of a cheap, panacea-like drug, which is easy to take, with no toxicity – an elegant solution to many common health complaints.