Low Dose Naltrexone: A Helpful Medication for IBS?
As I've been exploring lately for my posts on this site, IBS is just one of a nexus of disorders I have that intersect with each other, but all have a common symptom: pain.
When my IBS pain peaked
As my chronic pain reached a certain peak about a year and a half ago, I began to try different treatments to see if I could quell it enough to once again maintain a minimum of functionality and a decent quality of life. This is because the pain had reached the point where it was interfering fully with my ability to walk, work, and even complete many of the basic tasks of daily living.
I searched for answers
After doing a deep dive into the scientific literature and medical studies on pain, I kept coming across one potential treatment: Low-Dose Naltrexone, otherwise known as "LDN." For those for whom this term may sound familiar, naltrexone has been around a while and is often prescribed to those struggling with addiction as it functions in the body as an opioid antagonist. However, in recent years it's been discovered that very low doses of naltrexone can act as an anti-inflammatory agent in the body and so help assuage the pain. This is why LDN has become a useful treatment for those who have a variety of diagnoses, ranging from Multiple Sclerosis to fibromyalgia to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (which is what I have), as well as Crohn's disease.
I gave low-dose naltrexone a shot
This is why I decided to try it about 18 months ago. I am on a very tiny dose I take almost every day with lunch (I was taking it with dinner, but I found it interfered with my sleep, so moved it to the afternoon). I also started taking CBD/medical marijuana around that same time, so admittedly it can be difficult to decipher which had the most impact on my improvements. All I do know is within weeks of taking LDN, my pain levels started to steadily improve.
But what about its impacts on IBS? To be honest, my IBS was already relatively well-managed with other treatments before I started taking LDN, so while I didn't notice any significant improvement in IBS than what I already achieved with other methods, I definitely didn't experience any worsening symptoms or IBS side effects from taking LDN.
Low-dose naltrexone research
According to some peer review data, while the results can be mixed, it does seem those for whom LDN helps their GI issues, can experience marked improvements. As one study from 2010 noted "In 85 patients with irritable bowel syndrome-small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, 15 were markedly improved...In 12 patients with chronic constipation, 7 were markedly improved, 1 was moderately improved, 1 was mildly improved, and 4 were unchanged. Low dose naltrexone frequently has side effects but in most is tolerable. It appears to be helpful for a member of patients with gastrointestinal disorders."1
A study from even earlier in 2006 that analyzed the impacts of LDN on a sample of 42 patients with IBS found that 75 percent of those patients experienced improvements in their IBS symptoms while the average of pain-free days they experienced increased, while none had any significant side effects to the medication. The study concluded the LDN they used "...improves pain and overall feeling, and is well tolerated by IBS patients."2
Everybody with IBS is different
While LDN usually requires a prescription and is often not covered by insurance, the good news is it is fairly cheap. If you are interested in trying LDN, discuss it with your doctor and make sure it wouldn't interfere with other medications (it does interfere with opioid classes of drugs) or pose risks for other health issues you may have. I found starting with as small a dose as possible is the best bet.
Have you ever tried LDN? Did it benefit your IBS? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?