Low-dose naltrexone: An effective treatment for ME/CFS?

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is planning the first trial to determine if low-dose naltrexone could be an effective treatment for ME/CFS. The following article on low-dose naltrexone for ME/CFS was first published on Prohealth.com. It is being reprinted here with permission from the editor. 

Unlike fibromyalgia, there are no FDA-approved treatments for ME/CFS, leaving few options for relieving symptoms.

But in recent years, a growing number of patients have started using a little-known drug called low-dose naltrexone (LDN) as an off-label treatment, and now an Alabama-based researcher is planning the first trial to find out if LDN actually reduces the symptoms of ME/CFS.

The FDA approved naltrexone to treat addiction to certain opiate drugs in 1984. But in low doses (typically 1-4.5 mg), naltrexone enhances the body’s immune system by boosting the production of endorphins, which in turn promotes healing and lessens inflammation. So far, LDN has been found useful in the treatment of certain autoimmune and central nervous system conditions, including multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and others.

University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Dr. Jarred Younger is planning the first trial to determine if low-dose naltrexone might be an effective treatment for ME/CFS.

Dr. Jarred Younger

While at Stanford University, Dr. Jarred Younger conducted two small trials to find out if LDN might relieve fibromyalgia pain. The results showed LDN was actually more effective than the three drugs currently approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia.

In 2014, Younger moved his research to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and opened the Neuroinflammation, Pain and Fatigue Laboratory. He decided to test LDN in ME/CFS after reading testimonials on PatientsLikeMe.com and similar websites from patients who said their fatigue and pain lifted after using LDN.

“Multiple people were reporting it has improved [their symptoms] where other treatments haven’t helped much,” Younger said.

A number of researchers, including Younger, believe fibromyalgia and ME/CFS may be related conditions. Younger speculates if LDN works well in fibromyalgia patients, then it might also benefit those with ME/CFS. Soon, he’ll recruit the first 20 patients from the Birmingham area to test his theory.

“We know LDN works for about 65 percent of the fibromyalgia patients. If I give this to ME/CFS patients, and 65 percent of patients improve, then there’s a shared pathology between the two,” he said.

ME/CFS patients have few options to deal with the debilitating fatigue that’s the hallmark of their condition. Some physicians prescribe amphetamines, like Ritalin or Adderall, but this class of drugs can cause insomnia, rapid heartbeat, psychosis and other harmful side effects. These drugs also can become less effective over time.

“It’s not addressing the problem either,” Younger said. “It’s just sort of compensating for the symptoms. We really want to address what the disease pathology is and try to treat that.”

Younger believes the symptoms of ME/CFS and fibromyalgia may be caused by brain inflammation. The brain contains microglial cells, which are constantly scanning and looking for problems within the central nervous system. When they discover an issue, these cells release chemicals, which cause fatigue, pain, cognitive disturbances and other symptoms commonly associated with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. In a healthy person, these chemicals are supposed to slow down the body, so the immune system can focus on healing. But in ME/CFS and fibromyalgia, some researchers think this normal bodily response gets activated and won’t shut off.

LDN may work in fibromyalgia (and also possibly in ME/CFS) patients because it calms the microglial cells and reduces brain inflammation.

“Naltrexone, in very general terms, crosses the blood/brain barrier, and it suppresses that inflammation,” Younger explained.

Earlier this year, Younger began trying to raise around $4 million to fund a fast-track clinical trial center, which would enable his team to test out multiple treatments for ME/CFS and fibromyalgia simultaneously. It would rely on the support of donors, cutting through the federal government’s long waits for funding. On average, it takes about eight to 10 years for a treatment to navigate through the federal government’s grant system before it’s ready for public use. Younger’s center would cut that time to about three years.

You might also like …

FedUpwithFatigue’s low-dose naltrexone resources page

In early clinical trials, low-dose naltrexone has been shown to work just as well or better than the three drugs currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia.

An interview with Linda Elsegood, editor of “The LDN Book

Linda Elsegood, editor of "The LDN Book" and founder of the LDN Research Trust, discusses how low-dose naltrexone can be beneficial for fibromyalgia and other conditions.

Naltrexone ‘changed life’ of fibromyalgia patient

Low dose naltrexone is an emerging treatment for fibromyalgia. In early research studies, about 65 percent of patients experienced a significant reduction of symptoms.

A review of LDNDoctor.com, an online service that provides consults for low-dose naltrexone.

LDNDoctor.com provides online consultations and prescriptions for low dose naltrexone via U.S.-license physicians.


  1. Kristi says

    The only problem I have concerning LDN is it boosts your immune system while in autoimmune conditions you want to lower the immune system from “overacting”. And you cannot take LDN if you are on narcotics. I just wanted to point that out because many people may not know that 🙂

  2. Thank you for another article on LDN! I eat this info up! I am seeing my doctor later this month when he will contact the pharmacy in Colorado where I will be getting my LDN. I’m very excited for this. I truly hope to be in the ‘majority’ of FMS patients this helps. Thank you Donna for posting this at the Chronic Friday Lini-up! Shared/Pinned/Tweeted ♥

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