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Cohen: Low dose naltrexone does a body good

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Low dose naltrexone is the prescription medication that every doctor has heard of, but never prescribes.

Regular naltrexone is used for heroin addicts, alcoholics and opiate withdrawal. The low dose version of the drug has undeniable applications for autoimmune conditions, chronic infections and pain syndromes. Consider it an affordable adjunct, especially because Remicade, Imuran, prednisone and other immune drugs come with hefty side effects and outrageous price tags.

Low dose naltrexone performs two functions in your body:

  • It helps you tolerate your self.
  • It reduces inflammation in your nervous system.

Let’s start with the first function. You must have the ability to tolerate yourself, otherwise your immune cells attack the body. We call that an autoimmune disorder, and it means you’ve lost self tolerance. Think of rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s and other like ailments. When you take low dose naltrexone, it turns on T regulatory cells that smack down your attacking immune system. 

T regulatory cells have their own job, which is to make sure that inflammatory chemicals are secreted appropriately to help you when you're injured and then to stop that inflammation after you’re healed. If you don’t stop production of inflammatory chemicals (termed cytokines), then your body starts attacking everything in sight, pollen, dander, mold, dust mites. Then, you lose self tolerance, and your body is now attacking your thyroid, joints, adrenals, heart or myelin sheath around nerve endings. Low dose naltrexone acts like a referee and blows the whistle on those attacks.

Low dose naltrexone reduces inflammation in the nervous system. This is a huge advantage if you suffer with thyroid disease, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, Lyme Disease or neuropathic pain. Several papers written on this topic have shown that low dose naltrexone blocks microglia in the central nervous system. Microglia are just immune cells in the brain and spinal cord that, when hyperactive, produce pain-causing chemicals, fatigue, unstable mood, insomnia and cognitive dysfunction. To microglia, low dose naltrexone feels like a cold compress does to a sunburn. 

Low dose naltrexone works by blocking receptors in cells that allow natural endorphins in. Endorphins are compounds that are produced when you feel good, eat chocolate, experience a runner’s high or have sex. Endorphins increase your pain threshold. You want them inside the cell. With low dose naltrexone blocking the cells, they become short on endorphins and send a chemical signal to your brain to say, “Hey, crank out more endorphins because I have none!” Your body generates more endorphins in response to the perceived deficiency. Emerging studies regarding dosage suggest that lower is better, such as 1 to 3 mg at bedtime. Side effects are minimal and may include vivid dreaming or sleep disturbance which improve if you reduce dose or take during the day.

Suzy Cohen, author of “Drug Muggers” and “The 24-Hour Pharmacist,” can be reached at www.DearPharmacist.com

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