Can LDN Really Help Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Other Autoimmune Diseases?

You can skip this video in  seconds
Skip Ad

Visit the Mercola Video Library

Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) could treat patients with Crohn's Disease, Alzheimer’s, ovarian and pancreatic cancers, AIDS, autism and MS, to name just a few.

Naltrexone is a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist. It has primarily been used at fairly high doses to treat opioid and alcohol addiction. But at very low dosages, naltrexone has been found to have immunomodulating properties.

LDN was first used as a therapeutic agent for people with AIDS. It has been proposed for use in people with malignancies, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. A recent publication showed a marked improvement in active Crohn’s disease for people using LDN.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Some leading experts believe that low-dose naltrexone (LDN) holds great promise for the treatment of millions of people suffering with autoimmune diseases, central nervous system disorders, and even cancer and HIV/AIDS.

It’s extremely low-cost, and appears to be virtually free of detrimental side effects.

So why haven’t you heard about this before?

What is Naltrexone?

Naltrexone (generic name) is a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist, conventionally used to treat drug- and alcohol addiction – normally at doses of 50mg to 300mg. As such, it’s been an FDA approved drug for over two decades.

However, researchers have found that at very low dosages (3 to 4.5 mg), naltrexone has immunomodulating properties that may be able to successfully treat cancer malignancies and a wide range of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, and Crohn’s disease, just to name a few.

At least one physician, Dr. Jacquelyn McCandless, has even found LDN to have a positive effect on children with autism.

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Burton M. Berkson, MD, and he attested to achieving phenomenal results with low-dose naltrexone (LDN) in both cancer patients and those with autoimmune diseases.

Unfortunately, very few physicians are aware of LDN, and none of the pharmaceutical giants back it, meaning there are no friendly sales reps visiting your doctor talking about the potential benefits of this drug in very low doses.

And why would they?

At an average price of $15 to $40 for a month’s supply, the income potential from LDN doesn’t even come off in the rounding. It’s completely insignificant.

How Does Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN) Work for Autoimmune Diseases and Cancer?

A growing body of research over the past 20 years indicates that your body’s secretion of endorphins (your internal, natural opioids) play an important, if not central, role in the workings of your immune system.

A review article entitled Opioid Therapy for Chronic Pain, published in a 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, states:

"Opioid-Induced Immune Modulation: .... Preclinical evidence indicates overwhelmingly that opioids alter the development, differentiation, and function of immune cells, and that both innate and adaptive systems are affected.

Bone marrow progenitor cells, macrophages, natural killer cells, immature thymocytes and T cells, and B cells are all involved.

The relatively recent identification of opioid-related receptors on immune cells makes it even more likely that opioids have direct effects on the immune system."

As explained on the informative website, when you take LDN at bedtime -- which blocks your opioid receptors for a few hours in the middle of the night -- it is believed to up-regulate vital elements of your immune system by increasing your body’s production of metenkephalin and endorphins (your natural opioids), hence improving immune function.

In addition to increased endorphin production, Dr. Bernard Bihari (who first discovered LDN as a therapeutic agent for AIDS, in 1985), believes LDNs anti-cancer mechanism is likely due to an increase in:

  • the number and density of opiate receptors on the tumor cell membranes, making them more responsive to the growth-inhibiting effects of the already present levels of endorphins, which in turn induces apoptosis (cell death) in the cancer cells
  • the absolute numbers of circulating cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells, as well as killer cell activity

Dr. Bihari has reportedly treated more than 450 cancer patients with LDN with promising results, including cancers of the bladder, breast, liver, lung, lymph nodes, colon, and rectum.

According to Dr. Bihari, nearly a quarter of his patients had at least a 75 percent reduction in tumor size, and nearly 60 percent of his patients demonstrated disease stability.

Recent Clinical Studies on Safety and Benefits of LDN for Autoimmune Diseases

Although the video above makes it seem as though there are virtually no scientific inquiries into the safety and benefits of LDN, that’s not an entirely accurate assessment. Several studies have been conducted, and more are in the pipeline.

For a more complete list of past and current research, please see the website, but here are a couple of highlights.

LDN for Multiple Sclerosis – Dr. Maira Gironi, an Italian neurological researcher, treated 40 patients affected with Primary Progressive MS (PPMS) with LDN for six months, concluding that LDN was not only safe and well-tolerated, but halted the progression of the disease in all but one patient. The results from this pilot study were published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis in September of last year.

LDN for Crohn’s Disease – The first clinical study of LDN published by a U.S. medical journal was Dr. Jill Smith’s article, Low-Dose Naltrexone Therapy Improves Active Crohn’s Disease, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2007.

An impressive two-thirds of the patients in her pilot study went into remission, and 89 percent responded to LDN treatment to some degree. She concluded that “LDN therapy appears effective and safe in subjects with active Crohn’s disease.”

Other studies currently underway in various parts of the world, include:

    • A Phase II placebo-controlled clinical trial on the efficacy of LDN for children and adolescents with Crohn’s disease at Penn State.
    • A clinical trial of LDN in HIV-infected citizens of Mali—the first scientific study of LDN for HIV/AIDS in Africa—implemented in October 2007.
    • A study of LDN in the treatment of MS at the University of California, San Francisco, implemented in early 2007.
    • A clinical trial of LDN in the treatment of fibromyalgia at Stanford Medical Center implemented in October 2007.
    • A study by the MindBrain Consortium in Akron, Ohio of, especially, the affective changes in MS treated with LDN, begun late 2007.
    • An animal research study at Penn State of naltrexone in a model of a disease that mimics MS.
    • Animal research on neurodegeneration at NIEHS, suggesting a protective role for naltrexone.

Side Effects and Cautionary Warnings

So far, the only adverse events reported in clinical studies have been temporary insomnia and vivid dreaming in some patients. However, there are a few cautionary warnings with this drug, as with most others.

According to, if you fall in any of the categories below, you need to take special precautions:

  • If you use opioid agonists, i.e. narcotic medications such as Ultram (tramadol), morphine, Percocet, Duragesic patch or codeine-containing medication, should not take LDN until such medicine is completely out of your system.
  • Patients taking thyroid hormone replacement for a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis with hypothyroidism need to begin LDN at the very lowest range (1.5mg for an adult), as LDN may lead to a prompt decrease in the autoimmune disorder, which then may require a rapid reduction in the dose of thyroid hormone replacement in order to avoid symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
  • People who have received organ transplants and who therefore are taking immunosuppressive medication on a permanent basis are cautioned against the use of LDN because it may act to counter the effect of those medications.

For more information about low-dose naltrexone, is another good resource.

And, if you or someone you love suffers from any of the autoimmune diseases listed in the article links below, please review them for my personal recommendations on how to resolve the underlying problems of your ailment.