Research has shown the benefit of using low dose naltrexone for Hashimoto's thyroiditis and other autoimmune conditions.
If you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, reducing the inflammation in your body is crucial to help you feel better and lower your antibody levels.
If you don't lower the inflammation, it will be next to impossible to lose weight or feel as good as you can.
Lose dose naltrexone has been shown to substantially lower inflammation. It also helps to raise endorphin levels which makes you feel better overall.
There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence that LDN can help some people lose weight.
In this article, I will discuss LDN and what some of the research is showing about it. I will explain how it can be used to potentially lower antibody levels, help with chronic pain, and maybe even help people with Hashimoto's to lose weight.
Let's get started...
LDN is short for low dose naltrexone.
Naltrexone was developed in the 1980s to treat patients with opioid withdrawal. It is a sister drug to the well-know Narcan (naloxone).
It is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks opioid receptors in the brain.
When taken in doses of 50-100mg, it completely saturates the opioid receptors which prevents the person from experiencing the "high" that they normally would get from taking opioid (narcotic) medications.
It is therefore used by people in drug or alcohol rehab to help them stay off of their drug of abuse.
Dr. Bernard Bihari performed research in which he discovered that naltrexone in low doses helped reduce symptoms and inflammatory markers in patients with autoimmunity, cancer, and HIV.
Endorphins are our "feel good" chemicals. They are associated with feelings of pleasure, sexuality/sensually, euphoria and pain relief. Essentially, endorphins make us feel good and give us a sense of well-being.
Endorphins are what cause the "runners high" when we exercise.
Low levels of endorphins are associated with the opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain found in disorders such as fibromyalgia), and addiction.
Low doses of naltrexone (from here on I will refer to it as LDN) appears to increase the level of endorphins in the brain by only partially blocking the opioid receptors when the endorphin levels are at their highest (3-4am).
This signals to the body that the levels are low, so it temporarily increases endorphin production.
Endorphins appear to modulate the immune system. Therefore, raising the endorphin levels (like LDN does), impacts the immune system in a positive way.
LDN has also been shown to decrease inflammation in chronic pain conditions, which is why the people that have the most success using LDN typically have chronic pain as one of their main symptoms.
People with autoimmune conditions typically have lower levels of endorphins than people without autoimmunity.
So it makes sense that if LDN raises endorphin levels, it would help someone with an autoimmune condition feel better.
Also, autoimmune conditions are associated with an increased level of inflammation. So the anti-inflammatory effects of LDN would obviously also help lower the overall inflammation in the body.
In addition to the benefits listed above some studies have shown that the use of LDN can help to improve the immune system and reduce auto antibodies in some autoimmune conditions.
The majority of research regarding LDN that I found dealt with how it can impact multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn's disease, and fibromyalgia. However, it has also been used to in many other conditions.
Now let's see what impact LDN has on thyroid disease (particularly Hashimoto's).
To learn more about Hashimoto's thyroiditis, read my article here.
I discuss natural treatments for Hashimoto's in this article.
LDN appears to improve Hashimoto's (and all hypothyroidism for that matter) by:
Much of the evidence of LDN impacting Hashimoto's is anecdotal, meaning doctors and patients give their personal experiences using it. To this point, the number of research studies are small and sporadic.
However, a quick Google search will take you to websites such as http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/ that will show you much of the research and patient testimonials about LDN.
I myself have had several patients that reported feeling much better when taking LDN. Some even showed a reduction in their antibody levels.
The answer is yes in some studies, no in others.
LDN should never be prescribed for the sole purpose of weight loss, but some patients have had some significant weight loss while taking it.
It appears that LDN helps with weight loss by affecting the following:
Naltrexone can be found in a currently marketed drug for weight loss - Contrave. However, the doses in this pharmaceutical drug are higher than the ones I recommend in this article.
LDN is a prescription medication, so it must be prescribed by a medical professional - doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant.
The vast majority of doctors have little to no experience writing it. You may have to do your own research to find a doctor that is knowledgeable about LDN and willing to prescribe it for you.
Naltrexone is not available in most retail pharmacies in the low doses we are discussing in this article. You will have to purchase it from a compounding pharmacy.
Insurance will not cover it. Fortunately, it is usually less than $50 per month, so it is still affordable.
I have had the most success with LDN by starting on a low dose then stepping up the dose every 2 weeks until we get to the target dose.
My typical prescription looks like this:
Take 1.5mg daily at bedtime for 2 weeks, then 3.0mg daily at bedtime for 2 weeks, then 4.5mg at bedtime thereafter.
LDN has virtually no side effects, which makes it a great medication to try in people with autoimmune conditions, especially those with chronic pain.
Rarely, patients may complain of vivid dreams or muscle spasms when taking the 4.5mg dose. If that happens, reducing to 3mg usually resolves the problem.
The patient can try to go back up to 4.5mg a few weeks later if the 3mg is not adequate to resolve their symptoms.
Remember, LDN partially blocks opioid receptors. So if you are taking a opioid (narcotic) medication regularly, it could block the effects of your pain medication.
Therefore, if you are on regular narcotic pain medications, you should NOT take LDN at least until you reduce or stop your pain medications. At the very least, you will want to take your pain medications at a different time to try to prevent the interaction.
If you take your pain medication at the same time (or close to it) as you take LDN, it could block the effect of the narcotic medication on the opioid receptors which would in effect reverse its action.
This could result in a sudden increase in your pain level. While it is not life-threatening, you could experience a lot of pain until the LDN wore off and you were able to take more pain medication.
If you are interested in trying LDN, it is critical that you give your doctor a complete list of all of your current medications. This will help him or her to know if you can safely try LDN.
If you have Hashimoto's and you decide to try LDN,. it is important that you watch your thyroid levels closely. LDN may decrease your thyroid antibody levels which could cause your thyroid hormone level to increase and cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
That would be a great thing ultimately, but it could be potentially dangerous at first. You may therefore need to lower your thyroid medication dose.
Low dose naltrexone is a seldom used, yet potentially helpful medication in people with Hashimoto's and other autoimmune conditions.
Studies show that it can lower inflammation in autoimmune conditions. It also raises endorphin levels in the brain which makes the person feel better.
It is especially helpful in people who suffer from chronic pain, although it should not be taken at the same time as an opioid pain medication because it can block the effect of the pain medicine.
If you are interested in trying it, you will need to find a medical provider with experience in prescribing it. It will need to be purchased from a compounding pharmacy and insurance will not cover it.
Now it's your turn...
Have you ever tried LDN?
If so, what was your experience with it?
Leave your comments below.
Dr. Whelchel is a family physician who specializes in functional medicine, especially hormone optimization. He has over 20 years experience in private practice managing patients with various medical issues. His passion is helping patients reach their full potential of wellness and quality of life. He grew up in the Texas Panhandle where he currently lives. He is married and has 3 awesome children.