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Can Low Dose Naltrexone Cure Graves Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?

I’ve had a few people with autoimmune thyroid conditions ask me about the benefits of taking low dose naltrexone (LDN), and so I figured I’d put together a brief post discussing this.  Naltrexone is a prescription medication, and it was originally approved by the FDA as a treatment for heroin and opium addicts, as it blocks the effects of these drugs.  50mg was the typical dosage used for this, but in 1985, Dr. Bernard Bihari discovered that lower dosages of naltrexone helped to enhance the person’s immune system.

Fast forward to today, and LDN is used to help people with different types of conditions in order to modulate the immune system.  This includes HIV, cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, and autoimmune conditions, including Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.   I’ve heard some stories from people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis who received great results when receiving LDN treatments.  On the other hand, I’ve also come across some people who received this treatment and claimed it didn’t help.

How Does Taking Low Dose Naltrexone Help?

This drug blocks the opiate receptors, which increases the levels of endorphins, and this in turn will modulate the immune system.  This should result in a reduction of thyroid antibodies.  So the goal is to restore the body’s levels of endorphins, which is commonly depleted in people with autoimmune thyroid conditions, and doing this will essentially help to suppress the autoimmune response in people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

What Are The Pros and Cons of LDN?

Well, the benefits of taking this medication is that it potentially can suppress the autoimmune response, thus lowering the thyroid antibodies, and eliminate the person’s symptoms.  It also is relatively inexpensive.  Since the dosage is very small (around 3 to 4.5 mg) side effects are rare.  These are three great reasons to consider giving this treatment a try.

However, there are some disadvantages to this treatment.  One of them is that that not everyone who takes LDN will respond.  Of course the same can be said with other types of treatments as well.  After all, not everyone will do well when taking thyroid medication or receiving radioactive iodine treatment, and not everyone who follows a natural treatment protocol will restore their health back to normal.  Another downside is that the person supposedly will need to take this medication for the rest of their life.  Of course if it doesn’t come with any long term side effects then this might not be a problem.  And while it doesn’t seem to have immediate side effects, the long term effects are still unknown.

The biggest problem with relying on low dose naltrexone alone is that it still doesn’t address the underlying cause of the condition.  Yes, it will help to control the autoimmune response, which is causing the thyroid gland to malfunction.  But it won’t do anything for the cause of the autoimmune condition.  In other words, taking LDN won’t address the factor or factors which triggered the autoimmune response in the first place, which is why you will need to take it on a permanent basis.  So it will do absolutely nothing for weak adrenal glands, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, digestive issues, toxic metals, imbalances of the sex hormones, etc.  So while it might be a better option than taking synthetic thyroid hormone forever or receiving radioactive iodine treatment, LDN is not a cure for any autoimmune thyroid condition.

Combining LDN With A Natural Treatment Approach

I’m not opposed to people with Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis taking low dose naltrexone.  However, for those people who choose LDN I recommend combining it with a natural treatment approach.  Of course part of a natural treatment protocol involves giving supplements and herbs which help suppress the autoimmune response, but if someone wants to incorporate LDN then I have no problem with this.  Even though LDN doesn’t seem to have any serious side effects, I’m still not thrilled about people taking any type of drug, especially on a permanent basis, and so I would of course prefer for someone to follow the natural treatment protocol alone at first, and then perhaps incorporate LDN later on if the person isn’t responding as expected.

In summary, although low dose naltrexone can help some people with the immune system component of Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, this treatment isn’t a cure for these conditions.  While people with autoimmune thyroid conditions may benefit from taking this medication, it doesn’t do anything for weak adrenals, mineral deficiencies, gut issues, toxic metals, hormone imbalances, and other health issues that might act as triggers for Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.


 

15 Comments

  1. Marianne says:

    hello Dr. Eric,

    Thank you for your post about LDN. As a Naturopath/Herbalist I’m trying to resolve my husband’s Hashimoto’s. One of the reasons he has it is due to adrenal deficiencies- he works long shift hours, and has had a few stressful events…also there seems to be a genetic aspect, as his sister also has Hashimoto’s ( and IDD).

    He has improved since he’s on B complex, adrenal dynamite ( a good while ago), a host of vitamins that I alternate…, and now more recently Maca and on occasion kelp ( weight is not shifting). He’s on Armour 120 mg/day. ( used to be on 150 mg/day)

    All that being said, I’m, still hopeful to reverse the condition. He doesn’t seem to react to gluten, we did a blood test (allergy/intolerance..) Digestion seems ok.

    I was wondering if you have you been able to completely take someone of their medication? The reason why I think it should be possible is that my own brother had an auto-immune condition (liver related) which was managed so well that he is off all medication since over 8 years. (Very very gradually tapered off). I had seen a Chinese site in the past promising to resolve it, and now having studied TCM, I can’t find them back. What is your opinion on this?

    Thanks already for your time.

    Kind regards,

    Marianne Creyf
    Naturopath, Herbalist, TCM practitioner

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Dr. Creyf,

      Yes, it definitely is possible for someone to no longer need to take synthetic or natural thyroid hormone, although this of course isn’t the case with everyone. It really depends on the situation, but for any autoimmune condition, including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, the goal is to try to detect the trigger or triggers, control the inflammation and suppress the autoimmune component, and to address any compromised areas (gut, adrenals, etc.). And in the case of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis it also depends on how much damage has been done to the thyroid gland. If someone has extensive damage to their thyroid gland then they may need to take thyroid hormone on a permanent basis. However, just because someone has been taking thyroid hormone for a prolonged period of time doesn’t always mean they will need to take it for the rest of their life. Everyone is different, and as you know, each person needs to be evaluated on an individual basis.

  2. Steven McCurdy says:

    Hello Dr. Eric

    Some 10 years ago I was diagnosed with MS. I decided to try Low Dose Naltrexone and took it for a year or so. At a certain point they decide that, infact I didn’t have MS even though many of my initial symptoms continued. Finally two years ago, I was diagnosed with graves disease. Your article states that once you are on Low Dose Naltrexone you will need to be on it for life. Can you better explain why and how stop taking it can affect me in this situation?

    Thanks,
    steve mccurdy

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Steven,

      Low Dose Naltrexone doesn’t do anything for the actual cause of the condition, and so this is why someone who takes it will need to continue taking it. So if one stops taking it then in most cases the person will eventually become symptomatic again because all it does is manage the symptoms. It’s similar with most other drugs. For example, if someone has a hypothyroid condition and they need to take thyroid hormone for the rest of their life, if they decide to stop taking thyroid hormone then their symptoms will most likely return because they didn’t do anything to address the cause of the hypothyroid condition. I hope this makes sense.

  3. Mindi says:

    What supplements or herbs do you recommend for suppressing the immune system? I have had Hashimoto’s for 15 years, and was thinking of trying LDN to control the immune system, but if there is a more natural way I would rather try that first. Thanks!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Mindi,

      The best supplements are those which will help to inhibit proinflammatory cytokines, and this includes omege-3 fatty acids, GLA, turmeric, resveratrol, etc. I sometimes will use a product called Rehmannia Complex. This has an herb called hemidesmus which can help to suppress the autoimmune response. Just keep in mind that one still needs to find out what’s triggering the autoimmune response and then remove this trigger.

  4. Franka Maerz says:

    Hi Dr. Eric,

    I tested positive for one of the MTHFR genetic mutations (the less severe one) and from my reading deduced that the mutation alone will cause Hashimotos. Is that correct or is there something else that is likely the immune trigger for the Hashimotos? I have also been told that I should go gluten free as that may help lower my antibodies. I just started LDN last night and found this article, so I would love to hear your opinion. Thanks for your time!

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Franka,

      There does seem to be a higher prevalence of MTHFR gene polymorphisms in people with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, but this doesn’t mean that this is what triggered your condition. Avoiding gluten is a good idea, although it doesn’t always lower the thyroid antibodies, and even if it does help with this there usually are other factors which need to be addressed. I hope the LDN helps. As you know, it’s not addressing the cause of the problem, but it can help to suppress the autoimmune response while you address the cause.

  5. susie says:

    Hi Dr. Eric, how does one go about searching for what triggered their Hashimoto’s condition?

    Thank you.

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Susie,

      I usually start of by recommending a saliva test to my patients to look at the adrenals and secretory IgA, the latter which can give a good idea if someone has gut problems. Sometimes I will also look at the sex hormones. One can also do a test to determine if someone has a leaky gut, although I usually will start off with the saliva testing and recommend additional tests only if necessary. But I would definitely advise you to work with a natural healthcare professional, as it’s challenging to find out what’s triggering your condition.

  6. Maija Piittari says:

    Hi, Dr. Erik. Thanks for the link to listening the half-missed webinar.
    The Doctor I visited on friday told me, as I did sucpeckt already, that it was Subacute Thyreoiditis in my case, most propably, because of the good
    response to Prednisolon. My Bloodtests were good, CRP 3, Hgb 124, T3-V 3.9, T4-V 15, TSH 0.032,TSHRAb <0.4,Leuk.7.3, Those taken 31.10.13 Having had about 2 weeks Prednisolon 10 mg. (14.10.13 Crp 78,La 70, Hb 110,TSH 0.010,and
    21.08.13 TSH 2.36) I became ill in september slowly.Had pain in my th.gland and half the head, heart racing, sweat, speedy stomack, hunger, tremor etc.
    Anyway, I had a quick response on Prednisolon (which I do hate a lot).
    So, my symptoms are hidden at the moment!? Hip Hurray, or….I think now the work will start. I do trust LDN anyway, It did cure my polymyalgia rheumatica, which I did suffer 6 years of. I got rid of Prednisolon with help by LDN, which is much less dangerous drug indeed. I did start now Eleuthero, Ashgawandha, Maca, Lemon Balm, Passionflower, ginger, garlic,
    Amla-powder(strong vit.C),go on with D3, Krill oil, magnesiumcitrate, calciumcitr.,K2, Wheatgerm.oil, Echinaceae, Rhodiola rosea, probiotics,Ubiquinol 100 mg,Kelp,Turmeric. It´s a bit exspensive, I admit. Now I can go on with 5mg Prednison,then 2,5mg and stop it untill Xmas. They still will take ultrasoundpictures of my th.gland in December, because there is a sore lump under my jaw still on left side. For safety. I myself doubt the adrenals might be the original cause, having poor waterretention ,low body temperature,36,3 C-degrees.Thick eyebrows,and so on. One thing I ty hard is to get early in bed. It´s almost impossible, now it¨s past midnigt, this took time, English is not my mothertongue.
    So good night and, if I go to hypothyroidism, I´ll ask more, if I have to.
    With best wishes
    Maija-Liisa Piittari
    maijalipiittari@gmail.com, Helsinki, Finland, Europe

  7. Fallon Sisco says:

    I am not sure if you could help me or not but I suffer from Hashimotos and I can NOT for the life of me find a Dr who is willing to listen to me tell them what my body is telling me I have researched Low Dose Naltrexone and the benefits of it in the treatment of Hashimoto but where I am from the Doctors don’t believe in its benefits do you know of any clinical trials who might be willing to use me in their research? in September last year my thyroid antibodies levels were 4206 Hashimotos in ruining my life I know that I have an adrenal defiency I have narcolepsy my endocrinologist refuses to test my adernal glands function yet she wants to lecuture me about the long term use of concerta and ritilan please help me

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Fallon,

      I’m not aware of any clinical trials you can participate in. If you’re looking to try LDN I would try to find a local functional medical doctor in your area, and you might want to start by visiting the Institute of Functional Medicine’s website, as you can perform a search to see if there is a local doctor who might be willing to prescribe LDN.

  8. Paige Mitchell says:

    Dear Dr. Eric,
    I’ve been diagnosed with both Graves and Hashimoto’s at the same time. In May, I had a normal thyroid and in August, it was bad. I felt horrible. I had recently started taking Iosol Iodine supplement drops in green juice so I know exactly what my trigger was. Of course I stopped that immediately. Might LDN bump me back to normal? My diet is super clean, I supplement for inflammation, I exercise and am fit. Little stress in my life. I’m hoping not to have to take this for the rest of my life. but either way, I’m doing it. I’ll do anything to avoid RAI or the suppressant drigs. Thank you, Paige

    • Dr. Eric says:

      Hi Paige,

      In your situation LDN might help to suppress the autoimmune component. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it very well might be worth a try. I’m glad to hear that you are eating well, exercising regularly, etc.

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