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The story of naltrexone: happy hormones to the rescue

How would you like to feel happier, have less pain and inflammation and prevent cancer to boot? Sounds too good to be true? Introducing an old drug with some new tricks. Naltrexone was originally approved years ago to treat drug addiction. It worked by blocking the endorphin (happy hormone) receptors so the addict could not obtain the “high” from the drug of choice. That sounds terrible, you may think. I want my happy hormones. (You will have them.)Marzell

One of the doctors involved in using naltrexone started wondering about how it may affect the immune system as well as its effects for drug addicts. Dr. Bihari started experimenting with smaller doses of naltrexone, which only block the endorphin receptors for three to six hours. He discovered by using tiny doses of naltrexone the body responded to the block by increasing production of endorphins. Because the endorphin production normally peaks during the night, if a dose of naltrexone is taken before bed, the endorphin production can triple during the night. While this can produce some wacky dreams, it can also increase the endorphin level to last for the rest of the day.

In addition to the mental piece of mind, endorphins and metenkephalins, which are also produced, have a powerful effect on the immune system. For those who have autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease or thyroiditis, endorphins may calm an overactive immune attack. This settling of the immune system may be evident in decreased antibodies to the tissue attacked, and most certainly will be evident in the relief of symptoms patients report. One study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology reported an improvement in Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease) of 89 percent with low-dose naltrexone.

Low-dose naltrexone has shown improvement in treating fibromyalgia and even some cases of autism. One of the most impressive studies I have found was the reversal of brain lesions in multiple sclerosis patients.

How does this work? There are endorphin or “opioid” receptors on nerve, immune and tumor cells. B endorphins also shift the types of immune cells (Th1 to Th2) to decrease inflammation. Met-5-enkephalins are present in bone and joint tissues, and levels are decreased in arthritic conditions. B-endorphins have an anti-inflammatory effect on joint cartilage.

What about cancer cells? Met-5-enkephalins will actually hook into receptors on cancer cells and stimulate them to kill themselves. Case studies of a variety of cancers have been published by Burt Berkson, M.D. Of particular interest is the response he has demonstrated in very difficult cancers such as pancreatic. Although the case studies are not the same as large, double-blind clinical studies, the results are certainly noteworthy, especially because PET scans of the regression of cancers are included.

Low-dose naltrexone may be considered a miracle drug. I always remind patients that the miracle is really not from the naltrexone; it is only a stimulant for the miracle of the person’s own hormones and their interactions with the immune system.

Dr. Laurie Marzell is a naturopathic physician and certified menopause practitioner with the North American Menopause Society. She has an office in Lake Grove on Boones Ferry Road.

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