If you have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease and have considered taking low dose naltrexone (LDN), or even if you currently take LDN, then you’ll want to read the following guest blog post. In the post, thyroid health expert Shannon Garrett discusses her experience with LDN, and how it greatly helped to improve her health. Shannon is a big advocate of taking a natural treatment approach, but when she didn’t receive the benefits she was looking for she turned to LDN. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions she ever made.
Written by Shannon Garrett
One of the responsibilities of a nurse is to educate patients about their medication(s) and to assess and monitor for symptoms of adverse reactions or side effects. As a previous cardiac nurse, I’ve observed my share of medications that cause significant side effects, many of which were severe.
One of the reasons I became a holistic and integrative nurse in private practice was to help people discover how they could take care of their health, mind, body, spirit, and emotions through healthy lifestyle choices and eating real food. My second reason is because after 8 long years of seeing several doctors, I was diagnosed with 3 autoimmune diseases: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, pernicious anemia, and celiac disease. My only knowledge with respect to medication for use in autoimmune disease at that point was of immune system suppressants such as Remicade, prednisone, Imuran and others. As a nurse, I knew I didn’t want those because they carry significant health risks. So I set up business not only to help my clients, but also to help myself in the process.
I decided to follow many of the suggestions commonly recommended by functional medicine practitioners today. I was tested for food sensitivities, underlying coinfections such as H. pylori, Epstein-Barr virus, Lyme disease, Yersinia entercolitica and Candida overgrowth. I was also tested for adrenal fatigue, vitamin deficiencies, and had the Genova gut health test. I had eliminated gluten and dairy within one week of receiving my diagnoses simply because I knew they wreaked havoc on the system and their potential for inflammation. I was pleased when my kidney filtration rate increased by 20 points after 60 days simply by eliminating these two proteins from my diet!
Fortunately, I did not have any underlying coinfections to deal with. I did have an adrenal fatigue issue. However, after approximately nine months of commitment to lifestyle changes, healthy eating and reducing stress, my thyroid antibodies hadn’t really moved much. I was devoted to an anti-inflammatory diet based on my test results, healing my gut, reducing stress, optimizing vitamin & mineral deficiencies, and balancing my hormones. Although I felt slightly better, I hadn’t really lost the weight I’d expected, and I knew with an immune system that was still “confused” about what was my tissue and what was foreign was the perfect storm for additional autoimmune illnesses. In the past, I’ve cared for patients in the clinical setting who struggled with multiple autoimmune diseases (some 8 and 9) and their daily quality of life was null. I knew I wanted to prevent this for myself.
Within six months I was experiencing what I believed to be multiple sclerosis-type symptoms and this scared me. My doctor made arrangements for me to see a specialist. One day I was sharing my issues with another nurse and she asked me if I’d ever heard of low-dose naltrexone (LDN) and as I listened to her explain how it basically cured her father’s autoimmune illness, I knew I had to learn more.
To make a long story short, I researched LDN, gathered the information and presented it to my physician in a way I thought he would be open to listening…very methodical and with research to back up what I was saying. We consulted with LDN literate pharmacists and both agreed I didn’t have anything to lose; however I didn’t start it immediately. I continued to work on healing my body an additional 9 months.
LDN has changed my life and I’ve seen it change others for the better…however, it is not a stand-alone treatment, and for autoimmune thyroid disease, there is a specific protocol to follow.
Today I am an independent autoimmune/thyroid wellness nurse consultant, certified nurse-nutritionist, holistic lifestyle & wellness coach and nurse educator. I am also a LDN nurse educator and I love to share my knowledge with physicians and pharmacists on its use in a variety of autoimmune diseases.
What is LDN?
LDN modulates the immune system and has been shown to help patients with autoimmune disease, cancer, and other neurodegenerative disorders. It is relatively inexpensive and is available by prescription only and dispensed by a compounding pharmacy. I recommend LDN only be compounded by a LDN approved compounder.
It has been recognized that in many diseases the body may be lacking endorphins. The discovery of LDN is somewhat of a miracle, e.g. it is derived from naltrexone which has been available in generic forms for many years; however in low doses, it has been shown to modulate the immune system by blocking opiate receptors during sleep resulting in an increase of endorphins. The therapeutic effect is believed to be achieved by increasing the body’s production of beta-endorphin and metenkephalin which are important regulators of the immune system. These endorphins can increase circulating natural killer cells and lymphocyte-activated CD-8 cells, both of which are important to immunity. They also help regulate T-helper 1 and T-helper 2 (Th-1/Th-2, respectively) balance in the immune system.
Many physicians are not familiar with LDN, or what they do know about it is very limited. Big Pharma does not have a vested interested in marketing a drug unless they can hold a patent on it. The patent for naltrexone expired a long time ago so it’s not profitable for them. This means that their best-dressed sales reps will never be knocking on the doors of physicians-at-large to educate them on the miracle of LDN. Sadly, it’s simply never going to happen! What they might know about LDN is limited to generic naltrexone in 50 mg doses which is used for alcohol, opiate withdrawal and heroin addiction. That’s not what we’re talking about here, at all. LDN used for autoimmune disease including Hashimoto’s is not prescribed higher than 4.5 mg – and we start at a much lower dose than that before landing on a maintenance dose.
LDN and Autoimmune Disease
As previously stated, LDN is not a stand-alone treatment; however it is an amazing adjunct with the potential to trick the body into healing itself. The people who experience the most success with LDN are those who have optimized thyroid hormone levels, corrected nutrient deficiencies (especially iron, ferritin, vitamins D & B12, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and folate, etc.), healed their adrenals, eliminated infections such as Candida (Candida will block LDN), or Lyme, and healed leaky gut and low stomach acid if that was an issue. If you have Candida, this must be healed to within normal limits prior to starting LDN or it will not work.
When LDN is prescribed for a patient with Hashimoto’s, we start very low with the dose and slowly titrate over two months prior to a 6 month period of what we refer to as the modulating dose. When a physician refers a patient to me who has LDN in mind as their ultimate goal, not only do I work with them on lifestyle changes to get their body ready, I also teach them how to monitor their vitals at home when starting LDN and educate them on what to watch out for and what to report, etc. Depending on a patient’s progress (believe it or not, going hyper is a sign that LDN is working) they will be taught how to titrate down their thyroid hormone. One of the biggest mistakes we see patients (and physicians) making when a patient reports hyper symptoms is that they will abruptly discontinue LDN. This is the wrong course of action…what is necessary however, is to titrate down slowly on thyroid hormone (and of course lab tests are done to validate this action).
LDN and Medication Concerns
Since LDN blocks opiate receptors, it cannot be taken with any narcotic medication. Naltrexone is a pure opioid antagonist and will block the action of narcotics. In other words, pain medication won’t work if you’re taking LDN. I recently had to discontinue my LDN temporarily due to surgery and I knew that pain medication was going to be prescribed for a few days after the procedure.
LDN will not work if you are taking medications that suppress the immune system like prednisone or others. LDN is an immune system modulator and steroids suppress – both will antagonize the other and neither will work.
Examples of narcotic-based medications include morphine, Percocet, duragesic patch and any medication that contains codeine.
LDN and Potential Side Effects
The main side effects I’ve observed and experience personally are mild and usually disappear within two weeks while the immune system is responding to the blocking of opiate receptors. Most common are:
- Disturbed sleep
- Vivid, colorful dreams
- Tiredness or fatigue
Again, these typically go away within two weeks of starting LDN and given the potential LDN offers, are well worth the effort.
Tips if you are Interested in LDN
- It is important to get your body in the best shape possible prior to going on LDN. I devoted nine months to healing my body even further before going on LDN.
- Be sure to work with a LDN-approved compounding pharmacy. I cannot tell you how important this is and we’ve found that not all compounding pharmacies follow the correct LDN protocol. For resources on approved pharmacists and new research you can check here: http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org/
- Seek a physician who is either very open to LDN or is already LDN-literate for its use in autoimmune thyroid disease. The way LDN is dosed and monitored in autoimmune thyroid disease differs greatly than how it is prescribed for any other autoimmune disease. You can contact me HERE for resources, or check with the LDN Research Trust-England
This article focused on LDN for use in autoimmune thyroid disease. However, LDN is used successfully in a variety of autoimmune diseases as well as in cancer and Lyme disease. Given its potential, it’s very sad to me that drug companies aren’t interested.
LDN has changed my life! I now live a life full of vitality, and I have my body and my brain back. I’ve been in remission for 3 years as of this writing and I’m passionate about helping other women find this same level of healing…whether it be through natural lifestyle changes or LDN, my goal is to help them succeed. To read more about my story, I invite you to read my eBook Hashimoto’s: Finding Joy in the Journey available on Amazon as a Kindle book and soon it will be available in paperback!
Shannon Garrett, BS, RN, CHLC, CNN