Low Dose Naltrexone and Cancer
By: Dr. Adam McLeod, ND, BSc
Naltrexone is typically used for patients with opioid or alcohol dependence. It is a molecule that powerfully counteracts the effects of opioids. At lower doses this drug can be used with cancer patients to help balance the immune system and inhibit the growth of cancer1. There are many well documented cases in the scientific literature of patients surviving years longer than expected after using low dose naltrexone (LDN)2,4. This therapy is rapidly becoming a mainstream therapy as more research accumulates supporting its use in cancer.
The mechanism of the anti-cancer properties of LDN are poorly defined. It is thought that the LDN targets the opioid growth factor receptor pathway to inhibit cell proliferation in cancerous cells5. There is also evidence to suggest that at these lower doses the immune system is modulated in a way that is beneficial to fighting cancer3. These positive changes in the immune system from LDN have also been shown to make a positive difference in patients with Multiple Sclerosis and HIV. The bottom line is that when used appropriately it can be an effective component of a integrative cancer therapy program.
When LDN is used in conjunction with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) it can be a very potent therapy for pancreatic cancer. There are a number of case studies where patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer have survived many years longer than expected using only this therapy2,4. It is very commonly used with lymphoma when patients are not on opioids for pain management. There are also several studies that support the use of LDN with ovarian cancer and preliminary research indicates that it works synergistically with the chemotherapy cis-platin1.
The side effects from naltrexone are minimal when taken at low doses. Often cancer patients will take 3mg before bed and sometimes this results in vivid dreams. The most common side effect is loose stools which is not surprising given the mechanism of the drug. Opioid medication often causes extreme constipation due to stimulation of the opioid receptors. Low dose naltrexone does the opposite by inhibiting the opioid receptors and loose stools can be a consequence of this. A significant number of cancer patients tend to be constipated due to the medications and as a result the “laxative effect” of the LDN is not a serious concern.
It is important to recognize that this therapy is not for everyone. Many cancer patients are treated with opioids for pain management. Given that this drug acts as a opioid antagonist, it is not indicated for patients on opioid medication such as morphine. It would directly counteract the effects of this important pain medication. When LDN is used in the appropriate cellular context it can be an effective component of an integrative cancer therapy. A Naturopathic doctor who focuses in integrative cancer care will go through your entire case history to determine if this treatment is indicated. Contact your local naturopathic doctor to see if this therapy is right for you.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) Molecular biology, Motivational Speaker and International Best Selling Author
He currently practices at his clinic in Vancouver, BC where he focuses on integrative cancer treatments. http://www.yaletownnaturopathic.com
1) Donahue, Renee N., Patricia J. McLaughlin, and Ian S. Zagon. “Low-dose naltrexone suppresses ovarian cancer and exhibits enhanced inhibition in combination with cisplatin.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 236.7 (2011): 883-895.
2) Berkson, Burton M., Daniel M. Rubin, and Arthur J. Berkson. “The long-term survival of a patient with pancreatic cancer with metastases to the liver after treatment with the intravenous α-lipoic acid/low-dose naltrexone protocol.” Integrative cancer therapies 5.1 (2006): 83-89.
3) Brown, Norman, and Jaak Panksepp. “Low-dose naltrexone for disease prevention and quality of life.” Medical hypotheses 72.3 (2009): 333-337.
4) Berkson, Burton M., Daniel M. Rubin, and Arthur J. Berkson. “Revisiting the ALA/N (α-Lipoic Acid/Low-Dose Naltrexone) protocol for people with metastatic and nonmetastatic pancreatic cancer: a report of 3 new cases.” Integrative cancer therapies 8.4 (2009): 416-422.
5) Donahue, Renee N., Patricia J. McLaughlin, and Ian S. Zagon. “Low-dose naltrexone targets the opioid growth factor–opioid growth factor receptor pathway to inhibit cell proliferation: mechanistic evidence from a tissue culture model.” Experimental Biology and Medicine 236.9 (2011): 1036-1050.