Low Dose Naltrexone for Autism

DrunkTeddySome autism regimens are stalwarts that continue to demonstrate improvement (ABA). Some fade away – perhaps even to re-emerge (secretin?). Others hang around until more testing is documented (Memantine). Many can cause harm (Zoloft). A few are useful for specific purposes and so they continue to have a biomedical following. Naltrexone treatment falls in the last category.

The medication was approved in the 1990’s for addiction treatments including alcoholism, at a dosage range of 50+ milligrams per day. The thinking is that, if people don’t get high from alcohol and won’t suffer it’s absence, they won’t continue to drink. This is not the same chemical as Antabuse, which turns to formaldehyde and makes you SICK when you drink. Also, it shouldn’t be confused with the morphine antagonists Naloxone and nalorphine.

Nearly two decades ago, Italian researchers wrote, “There is a growing body of evidence that the immune and the central nervous systems interact and reciprocally influence each other… Taken together the assumptions that… the opioid system plays a crucial role in cognitive and immunological functions… and opioid peptides are present in excess in autism; then pharmacological reduction… by treatment with an opiate antagonist might counteract some of the behavioral and immunological disturbances observed in autistic individuals.” With a slightly different ‘low dose’ protocol, improvement was demonstrated “in a subpopulation of autistic children by chronic blockade of opioid receptors with a potent opioid antagonist, supporting the concept of an opioid-immune link in autism.”

In her 2006 report, Dr. Jaquelyn McCandless concluded, “As an effective, non-toxic, non-addicting, and inexpensive behavioral and immunomodulating intervention, LDN is joining our biomedical arsenal to help more and more children recover from autism as well as helping anyone with autoimmune diseases and cancer.” Her paper was entitled, “Low-Dose Naltrexone for Mood Regulation and Immunomodulation in ASD”. Sound like anyone you know?

Dr. McCandless’ protocol calls for specific timing (9-11PM) with a naltrexone-compounded cream (in the 1-1/2 to 4-1/2 mg. range) applied to a sleeping patient’s back or forearms. Once, a dad asked if he should also dance around the bed and chant. Funny guy. Which patients? What dose? What are the positive changes? The side effects? For individual patients, in order to achieve the goal of enhanced communication, doctors sometimes vary formulations, frequencies, and timing based on responses.

In my clinical experience, there is one type of autism that clearly disrupts by affecting the patient’s immune system. (How many other kinds of autism? is the subject of another explanation-post). Also, some oppositional behaviors, similar perhaps to an externally chemically-altered state, appear to benefit from this intervention. The major impediments preventing LDN from more common usage are:
1. It’s complicated and so requires parent education and resources.
2. After starting, the therapy requires tailoring to the patient’s responses and the family situation.
3. Patients don’t usually show immediate improvement, it may take up to 8 weeks.
4. Not infrequently, an apparent deterioration in behavior may occur in the early stages of treatment.
Of course, many biomedical interventions are subject to these same limitations.

That original naltrexone experience did prove significant and sustained improvement for a targeted, though small, population. For parents who wish to learn more about this subject, the Low Dose Naltrexone website is very informative and the Yahoo Group LDN is a great place to communicate with other users.

My discussion can be found here.

3 Responses to “Low Dose Naltrexone for Autism”

  1. sanjay says:

    HI,are there any parents who have tried this,i am very interested in trying this.the moe i research the more promising it looks.

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  3. Katie says:

    LDN has changed my life and my daughter’s life. I have Asperger’s and my daughter has a diagnosis of moderate autism. Goodbye insomnia, and hello sleep. I had chronic pain from multiple health conditions. Goodbye to that too!
    For my daughter, it improved her mood as well. She is 12 and *thanks* me regularly for LDN. How cute is that? Importantly, as a clinician, I am certain she has moved to a diagnosis of “high functioning autism”. This is supposed to be impossible. In 18 months, she has moved from all resource classes and failing state testing to “regular academic classes” and passing the state tests. Here’s the deal and a little about what we did: Many children with autism have underlying chronic infections or autoimmune conditions that are not easily detected (PANDAS, Lyme disease (which is *everywhere* contrary to popular belief), chronic unresolved viral infections). We use Beyond Balance antimicrobials (but there are other quality ones out there) because antibiotics harm the gut flora (already altered in those of us with ASD). Long use of pharmaceutical antifungals and antivirals is hard on the liver. Anyway … Starting with LDN made a huge difference for my daughter (who has all of the above conditions btw). Giving her a quality broccoli extract has drastically reduced meltdowns. Treating her partial seizure disorder reduced meltdowns and aggression as well (aggression is not an uncommon manifestation of pediatric epilepsy; 33%+ of people with ASD have a seizure disorder).
    The other thing that comes with chronic infections and anything inflammatory or autoimmune (like autism, which causes brain inflammation) is vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Magnesium *RBC* is the right test to order for magnesium status and almost every American will come up with a deficiency – especially autistic or chronically ill individuals. In addition, 98% of all autistic people have some variant of the MTHFR gene mutation. This should be addressed not only because it opens up metabolic pathways in the individual that result in fewer symptoms, but also because it lowers heart disease and diabetes risk down the road. LDN was the beginning of our road to *remarkable* changes!!!

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