Clin Rheumatol. 2014 Apr;33(4):451-9. doi: 10.1007/s10067-014-2517-2. Epub 2014 Feb 15.
Low-dose naltrexone (LDN) has been demonstrated to reduce symptom severity in conditions such as fibromyalgia, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and complex regional pain syndrome. We review the evidence that LDN may operate as a novel anti-inflammatory agent in the central nervous system, via action on microglial cells. These effects may be unique to low dosages of naltrexone and appear to be entirely independent from naltrexone's better-known activity on opioid receptors. As a daily oral therapy, LDN is inexpensive and well-tolerated. Despite initial promise of efficacy, the use of LDN for chronic disorders is still highly experimental. Published trials have low sample sizes, and few replications have been performed. We cover the typical usage of LDN in clinical trials, caveats to using the medication, and recommendations for future research and clinical work. LDN may represent one of the first glial cell modulators to be used for the management of chronic pain disorders.
OBJECTIVE: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that is characterized by diffuse musculoskeletal pain and sensitivity to mechanical stimulation. In this pilot clinical trial, we tested the effectiveness of low-dose naltrexone in treating the symptoms of fibromyalgia. DESIGN: Participants completed a single-blind, crossover trial with the following time line: baseline (2 weeks), placebo (2 weeks), drug (8 weeks), and washout (2 weeks). PATIENTS:
Ten women meeting criteria for fibromyalgia and not taking an opioid medication. INTERVENTIONS: Naltrexone, in addition to antagonizing opioid receptors on neurons, also inhibits microglia activity in the central nervous system. At low doses (4.5 mg), naltrexone may inhibit the activity of microglia and reverse central and peripheral inflammation. OUTCOME MEASURES: Participants completed reports of symptom severity everyday, using a handheld computer. In addition, participants visited the lab every 2 weeks for tests of mechanical, heat, and cold pain sensitivity. RESULTS: Low-dose naltrexone reduced fibromyalgia symptoms in the entire cohort, with a greater than 30% reduction of symptoms over placebo. In addition, laboratory visits showed that mechanical and heat pain thresholds were improved by the drug. Side effects (including insomnia and vivid dreams) were rare, and described as minor and transient. Baseline erythrocyte sedimentation rate predicted over 80% of the variance in drug response. Individuals with higher sedimentation rates (indicating general inflammatory processes) had the greatest reduction of symptoms in response to low-dose naltrexone.
CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that low-dose naltrexone may be an effective, highly tolerable, and inexpensive treatment for fibromyalgia.
The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying fibromyalgia are still unknown, although some evidence points to endogenous opioid dysfunction. We examined how endogenous opioid antagonism affects pain and mood for women with and without fibromyalgia. Ten women with fibromyalgia and ten age- and gender-matched, healthy controls each attended two laboratory sessions. Each participant received naltrexone (50mg) at one session, and placebo at the other session, in a randomized and double-blind fashion. Participants were tested for changes in sensitivity to heat, cold, and mechanical pain. Additionally, we collected measures of mood and opioid withdrawal symptoms during the laboratory sessions and at home the night following each session. At baseline, the fibromyalgia group exhibited more somatic complaints, greater sensory sensitivity, more opioid withdrawal somatic symptoms, and lower mechanical and cold pain-tolerance than did the healthy control group. Neither group experienced changes in pain sensitivity due to naltrexone administration. Naltrexone did not differentially affect self-reported withdrawal symptoms, or mood, in the fibromyalgia and control groups. Consistent with prior research, there was no evidence found for abnormal endogenous opioid activity in women with fibromyalgia.