Study Finds Naltrexone Has No Serious Side Effects

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

A generic drug increasingly used off-label to treat fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions is safe to use and more clinical studies are needed on its potential uses, according to British researchers.

Naltrexone is primarily used to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction, but many patients have discovered that low doses of naltrexone (LDN) are effective in relieving pain and other symptoms.

Many doctors won’t prescribe naltrexone, often citing liver toxicity as a reason. But when researchers at The University of Manchester reviewed 89 placebo-controlled studies of naltrexone involving over 11,000 patients, they found no evidence of any serious side effects.

"Though naltrexone is licensed for the treatment of alcohol addiction, it remains underutilized,” says lead author Monica Bolton, PhD, who reported her findings in the journal BMC Medicine. "And that has devastating consequences for individuals, health and social services in the UK and around the world.

"It is cost effective and could reduce deaths."

naltrexone-500x500.jpg

“Our review also shows that fears over side-effects are unfounded," said co-author Alex Hodkinson, Phd. "Like all drugs for alcohol addiction, the chaotic nature of being an addict means this drug is simply not prescribed as much as it should be,”

Naltrexone does cause minor side effects in some patients, such as nausea and dizziness, and because it is an opioid antagonist the drug should not be taken with opioid medication.

The fact that naltrexone is generic and inexpensive is one reason the drug is not more widely prescribed. There is little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to market naltrexone or to conduct expensive clinical trials to prove its effectiveness in treating pain.

"As it is safe, cheap and long out of patent, naltrexone would seem an excellent candidate for repurposing for a whole range of conditions,” says Bolton. "That is why it is imperative to find ways to fund clinical trials to test if it might one day be possible to license it.

"The problem is, it is extremely difficult to repurpose existing drugs - and naltrexone is just one example of many wasted opportunities to treat people and save the NHS money."

Of the 89 naltrexone trials included in the Manchester University study, only 3 dealt with chronic pain conditions.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that at very low doses of 5 mg or less, naltrexone may be able to treat a range of immune-modulated conditions including Crohn's disease, HIV, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).

In a PNN guest column, Marelle Reid shared her experience using LDN to treat Interstitial Cystitis, while Janice Hollander said LDN “completely changed my life” when she started taking it for fibromyalgia.

Patients interested in trying LDN often encounter doctors who refuse to prescribe it. The LDN Research Trust includes a list of LDN-friendly doctors and pharmacies on its website.

 

How Low Dose Naltrexone Relieved My Chronic Pain

By Marelle Reid, Guest Columnist

For the past eight years I've been dealing with Interstitial Cystitis (IC), a chronic pain condition that feels like a bladder infection that never ends. No one really knows what causes IC and there is no cure.

I've tried everything from surgery and homeopathy to narcotics and antidepressants, but nothing seemed to work until I discovered Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN). A hormone specialist suggested I use LDN as a way to combat the nerve pain that had plagued me for years. I figured I might as well try it since the only side effects from LDN are trouble sleeping and vivid dreams.

MARELLE REID

MARELLE REID

After a couple of weeks I found the strange dreams stopped, and a few months later I realized I was able to eat foods I normally would avoid because they made my IC pain worse. In fact, I was able to resume a completely normal diet, including foods and drinks that would have previously sent me into terrible flare.

For the past year I've been taking 4.5mg naltrexone at night just before bed. Although it has not cured me, I've been thrilled to find that it has reduced my pain to the point where I no longer feel held back from doing anything I would have done before I was diagnosed with IC. 

Naltrexone is the same drug used to treat alcoholism and opioid addiction. In larger doses (50mg) it blocks opioid receptors in the brain and decreases the desire to take opiates or alcohol.  It's believed that taking naltrexone in smaller doses stimulates the immune system and the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkiller.

LDN is prescribed "off label" for many conditions, but it isn't well known as a treatment for chronic pain because it's not marketed by any drug company for that purpose. The patent on naltrexone expired years ago and there's little money to be made from it or to conduct clinical trials.

However, a review of anecdotal information online and in social media suggests many people suffering from Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and other chronic illnesses believe they have benefited from taking LDN. (See "Naltrexone Changed Life of Fibromyalgia Patient").

I hope others can find the same relief that I have. 

tell us your story.jpg

Marelle Reid lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to editor@painnewsnetwork.org.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.

Naltrexone ‘Changed Life’ of Fibromyalgia Patient

By Donna Gregory Burch

The pain in Janice Hollander’s legs was so excruciating that she wanted to cut them off. Diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2013, she’d progressed through the normal litany of prescription drugs doled out by physicians – Lyrica, Cymbalta, gabapentin, muscle relaxers and narcotics – all without finding relief.

Then she happened to catch an episode of the Dr. Oz Show where a guest discussed using low-dose naltrexone (LDN) as a treatment for chronic pain. A few days later, she convinced her doctor to write a prescription and took her first dose of LDN.

“After about seven days, my pain lessened,” said Hollander of Michigan. “It lessened by 10 or 20 percent. That was huge! Even just that little bit of lessening was huge.”

After four weeks, the depression that had been stymying her for years lifted. At six weeks, she saw a noticeable increase in her energy levels. Her brain fog improved, and her memory returned.

Hollander has been taking LDN for about year now, and she’s probably one of its biggest fans within the fibromyalgia community. She regularly shares her success story in online support groups.

Hollander still has fibromyalgia symptoms, but they are more manageable thanks to LDN.

“I would say my leg pain is pretty much gone,” she said. “[LDN] has completely changed my life. I don’t know that I would be here today if it wasn’t for it. I don’t think I could go for another year in the misery I was in.” 

A growing number of fibromyalgia sufferers like Hollander are finding relief using LDN. It’s an unusual discovery since LDN is best known in the addiction treatment community. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved LDN to treat addiction to certain opiate drugs in 1984.

janice hollander

janice hollander

Dr. Jarred Younger, who conducted two LDN/fibromyalgia studies at Stanford University, believes LDN has an anti-inflammatory effect on the brain.

“This is one of the few drugs that can do that in the brain because it crosses the blood-brain barrier,” Younger said.

In simple terms, the brain contains microglial cells that look for problems within the central nervous system. When they discover an abnormality, these cells release chemicals into the body that cause fatigue, pain, cognitive disturbances and other symptoms common among fibromyalgia patients. In a healthy person, these chemicals are intended to slow down the body, to force it to rest, so that it can heal from whatever has caused the abnormality. In fibromyalgia, some researchers hypothesize this normal central nervous system response gets activated and doesn’t shut off.

“It’s like the central nervous system thinks you have an infection when you don’t,” Younger explained.

Fibromyalgia sufferers often speculate about what caused their condition, and researchers have debated various triggers for years. Viruses (herpes, Epstein Barr, etc.), chronic stress, genetics, obesity, aging and pollution are suspects, but according to Younger, it could be all of these.

He believes LDN works because it calms the microglial cells and reduces brain inflammation.

Penn State University researcher Ian Zagon posits a different mechanism behind LDN. Zagon’s opioid blockade hypothesis surmises that LDN blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, essentially tricking the body into increasing production of natural pain-suppressing chemicals.

Theoretically, both hypotheses could be correct.

Younger’s two Stanford University studies showed LDN outperformed Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella, the three drugs currently approved to treat fibromyalgia in the U.S., and it did so with minimal side effects. The most common side effects are headache, insomnia, vivid dreams and nausea – all of which usually disappear over time.

“Probably 65 percent of people get an appreciable decrease of symptoms,” Younger said.

But more research is needed to confirm these early findings.

Next year, Younger will conduct at least two LDN/fibromyalgia studies at his new facility, the Neuroinflammation, Pain and Fatigue Lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

One study will try to parse out the most effective dose of LDN for fibromyalgia. Most LDN users are prescribed the drug off-label, between 1.5mg and 4.5mg daily. But some rheumatologists have shared anecdotal accounts that certain patients respond better to higher doses, ranging up to 9mg.

A second trial will pair LDN with dextromethorphan, a common cough suppressant that’s believed to work similarly to LDN.

But many fibromyalgia sufferers aren’t waiting for the research. They’ve found ways to secure a prescription and try LDN for themselves.

Linda Elsegood, founder of the U.K.-based LDN Research Trust, has helped thousands of people gain access to LDN. She credits LDN with stabilizing her multiple sclerosis. At her worst, Elsegood was wheelchair bound, had no control of her bowels or bladder and had lost much of her sight and hearing. After 18 months on LDN, she was able to walk again on her own and had a reversal of most of her symptoms.

After her remarkable recovery, she wanted to educate others on the benefits of LDN.

“I wanted people to know that there is a choice, if you’ve been told, like me, that there’s nothing else that can be done for you,” she said. “Look into LDN. Do your research. … It is amazing the number of people who’ve found LDN works for them for so many different conditions.”

In addition to fibromyalgia, early research has found LDN to be useful in reducing the symptoms of certain autoimmune and central nervous system conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others.

But few doctors know about LDN as an emerging treatment, so it can be difficult to get a prescription.

“Some doctors are too busy to read the information,” Elsegood explained. “Some will not think outside of the box. It’s not what they learned in medical school, so they’re not prepared to consider something that is alternative. Other doctors won’t prescribe it because there aren’t enough trials.”

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that any of the major drug companies will ever study LDN because it’s an older, generic drug and little profit can be made from it. So it falls to innovative researchers, like Younger, who secure donations and grants to fund trials.

Patients often encounter doctors who refuse to prescribe LDN even though it has a proven safety record and a low risk of side effects. The LDN Research Trust includes a list of LDN-friendly doctors and pharmacies on its website. For those who can’t find an LDN-friendly doctor locally, there are physicians who offer phone and online LDN consults.

“My advice is to always research it yourself, and then address it with your doctor,” Hollander said. “And if your doctor won’t agree to letting you try it, then find a doctor who will.

“I would drive to Florida to get it if I had to. It makes that big of a difference. I just wish more doctors would prescribe it, and more people would find help with it.”

For a list of helpful LDN resources, visit www.fedupwithfatigue.com/low-dose-naltrexone.

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained symptoms. Donna is the founder of Fed Up with Fatigue, a blog devoted to helping those with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS live better with these conditions.

Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in local newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.