By Dr. Mercola
Americans are finally starting to realize the dangers of soda, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) saying they actively try to avoid soda in their diet, a new Gallup poll revealed.1
This is a significant increase from 2002, when only 41 percent were trying to avoid soda, and a clear sign that, as TIME reported, “the soda craze is going flat.”2
Soda Consumption Falls to Lowest Level in Decades
The soda industry is a $75-billion market,3 an industry that reached its greatest heights in the US during the 1980s and 1990s, when Coca-Cola began pushing larger drink sizes and “upsizing.” Fountain drink sizes grew more than 50 percent by 1990, and in 1994, the 20-ounce plastic bottle was introduced in the US.
As people drank more and more soda, rates of obesity and diabetes soared, and while the soda industry still denies to this day any connection, research suggests otherwise. The “supersized” mentality seems to have backfired for Coca-Cola and other beverage companies, because as the health risks become clear, sales have been on a steady downward spiral.
As Businessweek reported:4
“For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country.
And then we weren’t as thirsty for soda anymore, and there were so many new drink options that we could easily swap it out for something else. Soft-drink sales stabilized for a few years…
In 2005 they started dropping, and they haven’t stopped. Americans are now drinking about 450 cans of soda a year, according to Beverage Digest, roughly the same amount they did in 1986.”
Coca-Cola Seeks to ‘Reintroduce’ Coke to Teen Market, and in ‘Guilt-Free’ Sizes
Part of Coca-Cola’s plan to bring soda back is, ironically, introducing smaller sizes, a strategy they believe might reposition Coke so “people stop feeling guilty when they drink it, or, ideally come to see a Coke as a treat.”
Smaller, 7.5-ounce minicans and 8-ounce glass bottles have been selling well. Even Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, says he limits himself to one 8-ounce glass bottle of regular Coke in the morning. Any more would be too many calories, he told Businessweek.
Meanwhile, Coca-Cola decided to target the teen market directly this summer. Teens, while notorious for their soft-drink consumption, have been quickly bailing ship and opting for energy drinks instead.
So Coca-Cola printed the 250 most common teen names on Coke bottles, hoping to entice teens with the “personalized” drinks. It worked. Sales increased by 1 percent in North America in the last three months.5
Beverage consultant Mike Weinstein, former president of A&W Brands, even noted that he goes right into high schools to find out whether teens can identify soda company slogans.
Yet, there seems to be a growing realization within the industry that, as American attitudes about diet change, and more people seek to reduce added sugar and sugary drinks in their diets, appealing to the “healthier” side of their image is needed.
And, here, too, Coca-Cola is quick to respond. They’ve invested heavily in small “healthy” beverage companies like Fuze tea, Zico coconut water, and organic Honest Tea. Coca-Cola also owns Odwalla and Simply Orange juices, Glaceau Vitaminwater, and Core Power sports drinks.
Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent has no intention of letting Coca-Cola’s brands, and its namesake product Coke, fall by the wayside.
A $1-billion two-year marketing blitz’s sole goal is to drive its “sparkling” division back to its former glory. And in case you were wondering… its healthy-sounding “sparkling” division includes soda, which is completely delusional.
Your Brain on Soda
When you drink soda, numerous changes happen in your body, including in your brain. A new animal study, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, found that sugary beverages may be particularly damaging to the brains of adolescents, one of the key age groups soda companies are trying to “court.”
Both adult and adolescent rats were fed sugary beverages for one month. They then were tested for cognitive function and memory.
While the adult rats did okay, the adolescent rats fed sugary drinks had both impaired memory and trouble learning.6 Next, the researchers plan to study whether soda leads to inflammation in the brain’s hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and learning.
Diet Coke Sales Plummet Amidst Aspartame Health Concerns
Diet Coke may not contain sugar, but that certainly doesn’t make it a better choice than regular soda. Here, too, Americans are catching on to the risks involved, especially in regard to the artificial sweetener aspartame. Businessweek, reporting on the decline in Coca-Cola’s sales, noted that while carbonated soda sales fell 2 percent in 2013, Diet Coke sales dropped 7 percent.
This, they said, was “almost entirely the result of the growing unpopularity of aspartame amid persistent rumors that it’s a health risk.”7 Rumors? Far from it. Research continues to pour in revealing proven health dangers to aspartame.
Among them, a recent commentary that reviewed the adequacy of the cancer studies submitted by G.D. Searle in the 1970s to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for market approval.8
Their review of the data found that the studies did not prove aspartame’s safety, while other recent research suggests aspartame has potential carcinogenic effects. The researchers noted:
“Taken together, the studies performed by G.D. Searle in the 1970s and other chronic bioassays do not provide adequate scientific support for APM safety.
In contrast, recent results of life-span carcinogenicity bioassays on rats and mice published in peer-reviewed journals, and a prospective epidemiological study, provide consistent evidence of APM’s carcinogenic potential.
On the basis of the evidence of the potential carcinogenic effects of APM herein reported, a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies must be considered an urgent matter of public health.”
You may also be surprised to learn that research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks and other “diet” foods actually tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and stimulate fat storage and weight gain.
A report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism highlighted the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.9 For the record, Coca-Cola maintains aspartame is a “safe, high-quality alternative to sugar.” Clearly they’ve not reviewed the hundreds of studies on this artificial sweetener demonstrating its harmful effects…
What Happens When You Drink Soda?
Soda is on my list of the absolute worst foods and drinks you can consume. Once ingested, your pancreas rapidly begins to create insulin in response to the sugar. A 20-ounce bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In addition to contributing to insulin resistance, the rise in blood sugar is quite rapid. Here’s a play-by-play of what happens in your body upon drinking a can of soda:
- Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.
- Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your liver dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.
- Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way.
- After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a blood sugar crash, and you may be tempted to reach for another sweet snack or beverage.
As I’ve discussed on numerous occasions, chronically elevated insulin levels (which you would definitely have if you regularly drink soda) and the subsequent insulin resistance is a foundational factor of most chronic disease, from diabetes to cancer. Today, while many Americans are cutting back on sugary drinks, soda remains a dietary mainstay for many. Along with energy drinks and sports drinks, soda is among the top 10 sources of calories in the US diet (number four on the list, to be exact),10 and, in 2012, Gallup found that 48 percent of Americans said they drink at least one glass of soda a day,11 with proven detrimental impacts to their health.
Some Advice for Coca-Cola? Get Ready for a Class-Action Suit
Some advice for Coke, plan your budget to include a class-action lawsuit similar to those filed against the tobacco industry. These products are now well linked to the obesity epidemic and chronic disease. Coca-Cola admits to targeting teens (and has previously targeted children through in-school advertising and product placement). Now, they are making attempts to rebrand Coke with a new, healthier image. Their new “Coke Life,” a low-calorie, low-sugar soda in a green can, no less, was designed to “quiet critics,” as it contains less sugar and no aspartame.12 Yet this new green-washed soda is just basically a cigarette with a filter.
Then there is Coca-Cola’s even more insidious side. Investigative journalist Michael Blanding revealed in his book, The Coke Machine — The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, that Coca-Cola bottling plants in India have dramatically lowered the water supply, drying up wells for local villagers while also dumping cadmium, chromium, and other carcinogens into the local environment. Similar claims have been made in Mexico. In many third-world countries, they already don’t have access to clean water, making soda their only choice for a non-contaminated beverage. As the demand for soda grows, the bottling plants increase, further taxing the water supplies left, in a vicious and dangerous cycle.
Join the Growing Number of People Saying ‘No’ to Soda
In order to break free of your soda habit, first be sure you address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). More than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT works to overcome food cravings and helps you reach dietary success. Be sure to check out Turbo Tapping in particular, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to get rid of your soda addiction in a short amount of time.
If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make some changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion. Remember, nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body’s needs. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened with stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. Remember, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.
Sweetened beverages, whether it’s sweetened with sugar, HFCS, naturally occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems, including diabetes and heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain, not to mention your exposure to potentially cancer-causing additives like caramel coloring and aspartame.
This is going to be a tough one…
The sentences just don’t want to flow. My brain feels likes like mush, and fatigue steals the words off my tongue.
But I expected it this time. In fact, I even tried to prepare for it. Yet here I sit, dizzy, and exhausted…after a full night’s sleep, at 11:00 am. It’s been a hard week to say the least, and this time, Meniere’s is not to blame. Well not directly.
It all started with a simple accident, one careless moment while preparing dinner several weeks ago.
I was in my kitchen on a Friday night, and had decided to cut up an avocado. I sliced it in half and began to cut out the pit, when the knife slipped and went straight into my left thumb. It was a small cut, but it went in deep, and I immediately knew something was very wrong.
As I ran my thumb under the faucet, I couldn’t feel anything. The top of my thumb was completely numb. I sealed the cut closed with liquid bandage and hoped for the best.
A week later, the cut was almost healed, but I still had no feeling in the top of my thumb. I decided to see a doctor. After considerable searching for a local orthopedic hand specialist who accepted my insurance, I was able to book an appointment for the next day.
I’ve had trouble finding good doctors in the past, but this time I got lucky. The doctor couldn’t have been nicer or more patient. He answered all of my questions, but after an X-ray and physical exam he broke the bad news.
I had damaged one of the nerves in my thumb, possibly severed it, but there was no simple way to tell. He explained that there are no tests sensitive enough to be able to see the damage on a nerve that small. The only way to know for sure, and fix it if need be, was exploratory surgery.
The situation had escalated so fast. My doctor explained that, depending on the severity of the damage, the feeling might come back on its own, but there was a chance it never would. And even if it did, scar tissue could develop around the nerve and cause problems later in life.
I also didn’t have a lot time to make a decision. The longer I waited, the less effective surgery would be. I decided later that night that if I didn’t get the surgery, and the feeling never came back in my thumb, I would always regret it. I scheduled the surgery the next day.
A Complete and Total Loss of Momentum:
This was my second surgery in the last year alone. About nine months ago I had to have a surgery to repair a hernia. So I had a rough idea of what to expect this time around.
After my hernia surgery, I had a really difficult time. I was hit by a mountain of brain fog, fatigue, and dizziness that had threatened to crush me. My Meniere’s symptoms had returned with a vengeance. The accompanying exhaustion, boredom, loneliness and resulting depression had lasted for weeks.
But when I started to feel better, I realized what had happened, and I learned something incredibly valuable:
One of the most powerful forces in treating Meniere’s disease is forward momentum.
Before I had my hernia surgery, I was working on exciting projects, exercising and meditating every day, and eating a healthy diet. I had so much momentum behind me.
But then I had the surgery. I was in pain, doped up from the meds, eating comfort foods, and laying around all day. When it came time to transition back into my life, I was stuck.
It was the first time since becoming diagnosed with Meniere’s disease that I had reached a point of complete inertia. I’ve had my share of setbacks over the years, but I had never been so completely out of commission. It took me a long time to find my way out of the hole. It took so much effort to get the ball rolling again.
So when I scheduled the surgery for my thumb, I wanted to try to avoid a repeat of the aftermath of my last surgery. I made a plan, and although I’m having a tough time, it’s nothing like it was before.
Time for Action:
Life always gets in the way. We not only have to face the adversity of Meniere’s disease itself, but we also have to face adversities with Meniere’s disease. Often, we have to deal with both at the same time. But every once in a while, we know what’s coming, and we get a chance to prepare.
My avocado disaster was ultimately an accident, but the damage was done. All I could do was accept that it happened, and get it taken care of. This time though, I knew the challenge was to prevent inertia.
After my hernia surgery, the brain fog was so thick I could barely function. It dragged on for so long. I was starting to lose hope. At some point I realized that it wasn’t going to improve on its own. I needed to do something, anything, to try to get better. It was time to take action.
I focused what little bit of energy I had on two key tasks: creativity exercises and rebuilding my routine.
For years I have used creativity exercises to combat brain fog, and it would always help. But I hadn’t done it for weeks and I knew I needed to up the stakes. I decided to push myself to try something completely new and I started writing creative short stories in response to writing prompts on Reddit. (Click here to read one of my short stories)
It was hard, really brain-achingly difficult. But I would finish a story and for a short while I would feel amazing. I had created something new and accomplished something I never knew I was even capable of. And the fog slowly started to lift. Every day I felt a tiny bit better.
I also started to try to rebuild my routine. I started eating my meals at the same time again, and I cut out the junk food. I couldn’t exercise, but I started going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, making sure to get 9 hours of sleep. It was an agonizingly slow process, but eventually I bounced back.
To keep up momentum after my thumb surgery, I knew what I had to do. I kept the junk food to a minimum. I went to bed early and got more sleep than I usually do. And I kept up my daily creative practice. As hard as it has been to write, I am feeling better now than when I first started writing this article.
Despite my best efforts, it has still been a hard week. But I am grateful to have learned my lesson the first time around. I was prepared and that preparation paid off. After only a week, I am already starting to feel better.
I hope I don’t need surgery again for a long time, but I know that at some point, somehow, something will go wrong. And when it does, I’ll be ready.
In considering possible mechanisms that could cause psychosis, the authors note that previous epidemiologic and laboratory studies have shown evidence linking nicotine and the dopamine system, which would relate to a leading theory suggesting excess striatal dopamine to be a main cause of schizophrenia.
“In vivo, nicotine might increase dopamine release directlly…to a similar degree as other drugs of misuse,” they wrote.
Nicotine could possibly also wreak havoc on D2 dopamine receptors, commonly implicated in psychosis, they added.
“Nicotine could cause a change in the dopamine system…through induction of supersensitivity of D2 receptors, which has been proposed as an explanatory mechanism for several risk factors for schizophrenia and as a common pathway for psychotic symptoms.”
Finally, a key cluster of genes — CHRNA5, CHRNA3, and CHRNB5— on chromosome 15, which have been linked to schizophrenia in the largest genome-wide association study of the disease to date, also are associated with nicotine dependence and smoking behavior.
The authors acknowledge the study’s important limitations, including the small number of longitudinal studies and the inability to determine use of other substances, such as cannabis.
“Future studies, particularly longitudinal and prospective studies with larger sample sizes, should investigate the relation between daily smoking, sporadic smoking, nicotine dependence, and development of psychotic disorders,” they conclude.
In an accompanying editorial published along with the study, Helen L. Alderson, PhD, and Stephen M. Lawrie, MD, of the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom, argue that the self-medication hypothesis and theory of smoking as a causative factor in psychosis are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
“The most likely explanation of these findings is that cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia,” they write.
“Taking up, and continuing, smoking could be self-medication for anxiety, depression, or psychotic symptoms. It could also be shared with other risk factors for psychosis, such as family history, urban upbringing, or childhood adversity.”
Along with regular cannabis use, the risk factors seem to have an additive effect to psychosis and age of onset, the authors add.
They agree that further research should include large, longitudinal, prospective studies focusing on those risk factors.
“To say that smoking causes psychosis would be premature, but the time might not be too much longer before cigarette smoking is recognized as a risk factor for psychosis as well as anxiety and depression.”
In further commenting on the study, Carol Tamminga, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, in Dallas, called into question several of the study’s suggestions, including the role of D2 dopamine receptors.
“The stringent demonstration of the role of D2 dopamine receptors in psychosis has not been demonstrated, let alone that nicotine has the same kind of effect,” she told Medscape Medical News.
“If this were true, then taking a cohort of 18-year-old adolescents and giving them nicotine would result in some degree of psychosis onset, more than placebo administrations.”
In general, the analysis should caution against the use of its associational data to claim causality, she added.
“[The authors] do admit that the effect is weak, and any of us would add that it seems inconsistent.”
“Cigarette smoking itself can have many other correlates which the authors mention but do not discuss, like the use of other addicting substances, probably poverty, and possibly early-life trauma. The authors really need to highlight these caveats.”
The study received funding from NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and King’s College London. The study authors, Dr Lawrie, and Dr Tamminga have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
Smoking and psychosis-Part 1
The prevalence of smoking among people with psychosis is notoriously high, and smoking is often regarded as a form of self-medication, but a new analysis suggests smoking itself may play a causative role in the development of psychotic illness, new research shows.
“[Our findings] suggest to clinicians that we should probably be more aggressive in how we manage smoking in people presenting with psychosis, in much the same way as we now consider managing cannabis use in people with psychosis,” coauthor Sameer Jauhar, MD, an honorary consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, King’s College London, United Kingdom, told Medscape Medical News.
The study was published online July 9 in Lancet Psychiatry.
Self-Medication Hypothesis Debunked?
The analysis included 61 studies with data through 2014 involving 14,555 tobacco smokers and 273,162 nonsmokers. The studies included international populations, and two studies were from China, where smoking rates are lower than in Europe and North America.
The investigators hypothesized that if the high rate of smoking among people with psychosis was related to self-medication, then smoking rates could be expected to be normal at the time of the first psychotic episode and subsequently increase in reaction to the symptoms.
Instead, the analysis of case-control studies found that 57% of people with a first episode of schizophrenia were already smokers, for an overall odds ratio of 3.22 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.63 – 6.33), with some evidence of publication bias.
A subanalysis of five longitudinal, prospective studies showed a more modest association, but daily smokers were still approximately twice as likely to develop new psychotic disorders as nonsmokers (relative risk, 2.18; 95% CI, 1.23 – 3.85).
In addition, those who smoked daily were found to develop psychotic illness approximately 1 year earlier than nonsmokers.
There was no significant difference in age of starting smoking between those who did, and did not, develop psychosis.
“We think that the earlier onset of psychosis and higher risk in smokers of developing psychosis (albeit based on few studies) calls into question the self-medication hypothesis,” the authors wrote.
The findings collectively satisfy the Bradford Hill conditions, which include strength, consistency, specificity, and other factors, for evidence suggesting a causal relationship between smoking and psychosis, the authors conclude.
Although Dr Jauhar said he knew of no evidence linking smoking reduction or cessation with a reduction in psychosis, previous research by his team, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has shown some reduction in symptoms in those who quit.
“Our [previous study] suggested that positive psychotic symptoms were increased in those with nicotine dependence, [and] what was interesting in that article was that quitters and nonsmokers showed lesser severity of positive symptoms than those patients with nicotine dependence,” he said.
“[However,] the other issue will be that if patients’ symptoms do increase, there is a high probability that this will lead to treatment-seeking, so it may be difficult to look at.”
By Dr. Mercola
It is not often that I advocate the use of prescription drugs, but low-dose naltrexone (LDN) is one of those rare exceptions that may hold the promise of helping millions of people with cancer and autoimmune disease.
As a pharmacologically active opioid antagonist, LDN works by blocking opioid receptors, which in turn helps activate your body’s immune system.
How LDN Harnesses Your Own Body’s Chemistry to Fight Disease
The latest research in Experimental Biology and Medicine just confirmed that LDN does in fact target the opioid growth factor (OGF)/opioid growth factor receptor (OGFr) pathway to inhibit cell proliferation. Previous research by professor Ian S. Zagon of The Pennsylvania State University, who also conducted the Experimental Biology and Medicine study, found that OGF regulates the growth of cancer cells, and all cancer cells use the OGF-OGFr pathway in growth regulation.
It is through this mechanism that LDN is thought to exert its profound inhibitory effect on cancer growth.
Further, LDN also works with your body’s immune system through its interactions with your body’s endorphins. Though most commonly referenced in relation to you mood, endorphins also play a role in pain relief, immune system regulation, growth of cells and angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor).
Typically, LDN is taken at bedtime, which blocks your opioid receptors, as well as the reception of endorphins, for a few hours in the middle of the night. This is believed to up-regulate vital elements of your immune system by increasing your body’s production of metenkephalin and endorphins (your natural opioids), hence improving your immune function.
In addition to cancer, LDN has shown promise for the treatment of the following diseases:
|Hepatitis C||Diabetic neuropathies|
|Lupus||Dermatomyositis (an inflammatory muscle disease)|
|Ulcerative colitis||Multiple sclerosis|
|Chronic fatigue syndrome||Alzheimer’s disease|
|Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)||Parkinson’s disease|
How can one substance impact so many different diseases? As written on the non-profit Web site LowDoseNaltrexone.org, which is an excellent resource for more information:
“The disorders listed above all share a particular feature: in all of them, the immune system plays a central role. Low blood levels of endorphins are generally present, contributing to the disease-associated immune deficiencies.”
Impressive Results in Cancer Treatment
In 1985, Dr. Bernard Bihari discovered LDN enhanced patients’ response to infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Years later he found that his patients with cancer and autoimmune disease also benefited from LDN.
Dr. Bihari has reportedly treated more than 450 cancer patients with LDN with promising results, including cancers of the bladder, breast, liver, lung, lymph nodes, colon, and rectum. According to Dr. Bihari, nearly a quarter of his patients had at least a 75 percent reduction in tumor size, and nearly 60 percent of his patients demonstrated disease stability. He believes LDN’s anti-cancer mechanism is likely due to an increase in the:
- Number and density of opiate receptors on the tumor cell membranes, making them more responsive to the growth-inhibiting effects of the already present levels of endorphins, which in turn induces apoptosis (cell death) in the cancer cells
- Absolute numbers of circulating cytotoxic T cells and natural killer cells, as well as killer cell activity
An impressive study released earlier this year exemplifies LDN’s potential anti-cancer effects, in this case to treat ovarian cancer.
The study found:
- LDN administered for six hours every two days reduced DNA synthesis and cell replication in tissue culture
- Exposure to LDN in combination with cancer drugs had enhanced anti-cancer action
- Mice with established ovarian tumors treated with LDN had repressed tumor progression by reducing DNA synthesis and angiogenesis — but not altering cell survival, indicating it is non-toxic
- LDN combined with a chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, alleaviated the toxicity associated with cisplatin
- LDN treatment upregulated the expression of the opioid growth factor, which is the only opioid peptide that tends to inhibit cell growth of ovarian cancer cells
Says Dr. Burton M. Berkson, MD, who has attested to achieving phenomenal results with low-dose naltrexone in both cancer patients and those with autoimmune diseases:
“It is difficult for many to believe that one drug can accomplish so many tasks. But LDN does not treat symptoms as most drugs do. It actually works way “upstream” to modulate the basic mechanisms that result in the disease state.”
Your Doctor Probably Doesn’t Know About Low-Dose Naltrexone
LDN has been an FDA-approved drug for over two decades, conventionally used to treat drug- and alcohol addiction at doses of 50mg to 300mg. Much lower doses (3 to 4.5 mg) are used for LDN’s immunomodulating properties as discussed above, but it has not yet been submitted for FDA approval at this low dose. None of the pharmaceutical giants back it, as at an average price of $15 to $40 for a month’s supply, the income potential isn’t very promising.
This means there are no friendly sales reps visiting your doctor talking about the potential benefits of this drug in very low doses, and as a result very few physicians are aware of LDN. So, if your physician is not familiar with LDN, you will need to bring it up to him or her, or, alternatively, seek a health care provider who is already knowledgeable at using LDN as a form of treatment. There are a number of pharmacies and compounding pharmacies in the United States and Canada that are reliable sources of the compound in low-dose form.
CAUTION: Important LDN Points to Consider if You Use It
- Avoid slow-release (SR) or timed-release naltrexone. You want to be sure the LDN you receive is in unaltered form that allows you to receive the full dose quickly. Slow-release formulas may not give you the full therapeutic effects.
- Be aware of inactive fillers. Part of the LDN capsule will contain a “neutral” filler material, however there is some evidence to suggest that calcium carbonate as a filler could interfere with the absorption of LDN. So to be on the safe side, avoid LDN capsules that contain calcium carbonate fillers.
Ideally, if you are interested in using LDN as a potential treatment consult with a knowledgeable health care practitioner who can guide your therapy and also help you find a reliable compounding pharmacy.
There’s no way to explain illness to someone who hasn’t been ill. Like, seriously ill. It’s like saying “Enjoy your youth” to a teenager. And you can only say “I feel like I’m dying” so many times before it falls on deaf ears — and even doctors have deaf ears.
By the time I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in August 2014, I had been sick for two and a half years and seen 13 doctors. I was 33 years old.
It took that long, and that many doctors, for me to stop trusting the medical establishment and start trusting what my body was telling me: I am really sick. I turned to what is known by chronic Lyme sufferers as a “Lyme-literate doctor.” This is a doctor who sees my illness as a tricky, chronic infection that needs more than the recommended two weeks to one month of antibiotics. I’ve been on antibiotics nearly a year, and I may need years more. But I am finally getting better. And it is only because I stopped listening to the medical and scientific powers-that-be who told me this was all in my head.
This is my story.
Right before I got sick, I had never felt better. I had finally gotten over a bad heartbreak, after living in Europe for six months, and I returned to New York bursting with energy and goodwill. Spring hit early, and I was pathologically happy. I remember thinking, Please, please don’t let this feeling ever end.
My first coherent memory of my body’s revolt happened while I was at my new internship at a nonprofit. As I smiled at the cute intern sitting across from me, I realized that the right side of my face was numb. The next day, I went to the ER, where I waited six hours. When the doctor finally came around, I was crying because I was alone and hospitals feel like prisons. She asked me to smile, which I could. She told me it was probably just a vitamin deficiency, wrote down the name of a chocolate calcium supplement on her pad, and handed me my candy prescription.
Within a month of that first ER visit, I was so tired that no amount of sleep or caffeine could snap me out of it. The Fatigue was an entirely different animal from even being totally exhausted. And I had these horrible body aches that were deep and rolling and buzzing. Paired with the Fatigue, they pushed me deeper into an alternate reality as illness took hold.
I felt like I was dying.
I went from one useless doctor to the next. When I asked useless doctor No. 3 to test me for Lyme disease, which a psychiatrist family friend had suggested, he refused. He said that psychiatrists aren’t doctors and that there are too many false positives for Lyme. And my aches were muscular, not joint aches, which mainstream medicine considers one of the few objective signs of Lyme. That and a bull’s-eye rash from a tick bite. And I had no memory of ever being bitten by a tick.
My doctor prescribed an antidepressant, even though I swore I wasn’t depressed. To prove it, I exercised more, meditated every day, kept up social appearances. I discovered that I could force my body to do almost anything, even though all that felt physically possible was to stay in bed and watch Netflix, like, forever. I forced it to go out with friends. I forced it to wash my hair. I forced it to eat, but I lost weight anyway. To the outside world, I looked great. Apparently, you can’t be seriously ill if you look great. Sometimes I wonder: If I had stayed in bed until a concerned friend or family member dragged me out to the doctor and said, Something is really wrong with this girl, would things have turned out differently? Instead, I thought that looking presentable, having clean hair, and never letting myself cry until after I left the doctor’s office would get me better treatment. So I continued to smile through my numb face.
Lyme disease first appeared in the 1970s in Old Lyme, Connecticut, where a cluster of children mysteriously came down with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It wasn’t until 1981 that researcher Willy Burgdorfer identified that an organism carried by deer ticks was the culprit for these arthritic symptoms. This bacterium, named Borrelia burgdorferi after Willy, is shaped like a spiral and called a spirochete. The spirochete can drill into any part of the body and affect every organ system, from the joints to the brain, and like syphilis (also caused by a spirochete) is a “great imitator” of a myriad of other diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, MS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue…and mental illness.
Most Lyme cases are caused by infected nymph ticks, infant ticks that are poppy-seed-sized. Their bites are often painless and go unnoticed by their human hosts. They transmit the Lyme bacteria — and a host of other co-infections that can make you just as sick — through their bite within 36 hours of attaching themselves to your body. One of the telltale signs of Lyme can occur within the first few weeks of being bitten: a circular rash with a red outer border (hence the “bull’s-eye”), along with joint aches and flu-like symptoms.
According to the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS), fewer than 50% of patients with Lyme disease recall a rash and fewer than 50% of patients recall getting bitten by a tick.
I still don’t know how I got Lyme disease. But after I had been to several doctors, I remembered that I had been in the Hamptons six months before I got sick, walking barefoot in the grass. There are a lot of deer in the Hamptons. Deer carry ticks. Your body can harbor the Lyme bacteria and when triggered present a slew of confusing symptoms.
So many of us don’t have the rash. So many of us pass off any flu-like symptoms as, well, the flu. To complicate matters, there is no effective blood test for Lyme disease. The ELISA test, which most doctors following CDC protocol will give you, only has 65% sensitivity. You have to “pass” the ELISA test to move on to a more sensitive Western blot test. And the longer you have been sick without treatment, the more likely you will have a false negative on this two-tier testing approach, which misses up to 50% of cases.
The only thing I knew about Lyme disease before I got sick was from a friend in grad school. We became friends on the first day of our MFA program and often rode the subway together to and from school. She told me she had Lyme disease, didn’t know how she got it, and was on antibiotics that made her really tan that summer when I visited her and her boyfriend in the Hamptons. She looked fine to me, and she never complained, so I didn’t ask much about it, if at all.
It was only until I got sick myself that I learned that Lyme disease, unbelievably, is a political disease. There are some seriously warring sides. The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) dictates the diagnostic and treatment guidelines that doctors and insurance follow. In cahoots with the CDC, it recommends only a few weeks of antibiotic treatment. If you’re still sick after that, you have “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome,” for which it offers no medical treatment except to suggest counseling. As exposed in the documentary Under Our Skin, health insurance companies use the IDSA guidelines to restrict diagnosis and deny treatment — and save costs.
In the opposite camp, there are doctors who are losing their medical licenses for treating Lyme disease aggressively with long-term antibiotics. They see the disease as complex and persistent, one that can evade the immune system and antibiotics and faulty testing. The IDSA dismisses the existence of chronic Lyme disease and the doctors who continue to treat your ongoing infection as “quacks.” And yet there are countless testimonies from patients that these quacks gave them their lives back.
Recently, I came across a picture in my iPhoto library of me dressed as Aphrodite on Halloween. It was taken while I was living in Barcelona, five months before I got sick. In the photo, my new, dashing foreign friends surround me and I am having the exciting experiences that a young woman goes to Europe for. When I look at the picture now, I think, She has no idea what’s coming. I also look at her fondly, like a sister, but someone who is not me. I know other people look back and mourn that person they were before. I don’t. Sure, there is enviable health and innocence in that young woman masquerading as the goddess of love. But I see her as someone who was often trapped in the headspace of her own sadness and heartbreak. I see someone who was really hard on herself — and now my life is all about making everything easier for myself. In a way, I am much more carefree today than I was then. I just have to seize those moments.
Make no mistake, I never think of this disease as a blessing in disguise or as a teaching or as something that happened for a reason. My body is a prison and, at times, a hell. But it has really tested my convictions: to write, to help others, to find love. How badly do I really want these things? Badly, it turns out.
To prove to useless doctor No. 3 that I was a good patient, I went to a therapist. The hourlong subway ride to her office felt like climbing Mount Everest. And not just because I had zero energy. My body had become an exposed network of nerves, and the subway was a hell of sensory overload. Basically, riding the subway — something I had never thought twice about before — was one long anxiety attack. The therapist told me that the Fatigue was definitely a symptom of PTSD from a sexual trauma that happened when I was 15. She promised that if I came twice a week she could get me through my “somatization.” Desperate, I signed on. As the therapist scrutinized my face for revealing micro-movements, I struggled to find words for what my numb face was trying to “tell me” about once getting punched in the face.
I went to my brother’s wedding, even though I felt like I was dying that day. My family was too distracted by the wedding to pay attention to my “psychosomatic” illness. Anyway, the therapist had counseled me to “fake it until I make it.”
Four months and $7,000 later, the therapist dumped me. I didn’t even know shrinks could do that. She said something about her hands being tied, which is what my doctor had said when I refused to take his antidepressants. Even though I strived to be otherwise, I was being told, again, that I was an uncooperative patient. I had felt like I was dying. Now I felt like killing myself.
Around this time, I started an eight-month yoga training run by my longtime yoga teacher. Committing to my spiritual practice was something I had planned on doing before I got sick. Plus, there was the promise that this intensive training would excavate and reclaim energy lost to an unhealthy ego. When I interviewed with one of the teachers in the training, I was up-front about my mystery fatigue. He suggested, in his thick Eastern European accent, “Maybe you’re so tired because you’re too busy thinking about yourself and not others.” I looked at him, and he just shrugged.
Sometimes my yoga teacher spoke about the Spirit of Gravity that tries to mess with you when you lean into your spiritual practice. I considered that an invisible, malevolent force was wreaking havoc in my body as a spiritual test. To me this wasn’t any crazier than another doctor telling me that happiness can be a source of stress.
Winter hit and I became too sick to work even my part-time, work-from-home job. Sickness had become my job. There were long commutes to doctors’ offices way uptown. There were hours on the phone arguing with insurance. Waiting rooms. Maybe I could have kept this up if I had a partner to help me. You know, for the in sickness part. Really, I just needed someone to tell me every day to keep going.
I flew home to California so that my parents could take care of me. Being 32 and single and staying with my parents for an indefinite period of time wasn’t exactly what I had planned for my life.
It was spring again and I dragged myself back to New York to see an integrative MD on the internet-fueled theory that I had adrenal fatigue. Integrative meant that she combined Eastern and Western medicine — and didn’t take insurance. She looked at my tests from all my useless doctors and told me that I had Lyme disease.
She showed me a test that an esteemed rheumatologist had given me when I asked her to test me for Lyme. Right there — amid number ranges and other things I had no clue how to read — was the bold-faced word positive.
But the rheumatologist had told me that I didn’t have Lyme! Confused, I brought the test to a reputable infectious disease specialist to get a second opinion on what this integrative MD had said.
He was adamant that I didn’t have Lyme disease and that I shouldn’t let anyone convince me otherwise. When I asked him what was wrong with me then, he suggested chronic fatigue, or maybe fibromyalgia, while admitting they were “wastebasket” diagnoses — that is, arrived at through process of elimination. I literally looked at the wastebasket in his fancy office as he said this.
But I knew something was really wrong with me, and so I started taking the antibiotic doxycycline that the integrative doctor prescribed. My body became a killing field. When the Lyme bacteria die off, this thing called herxing can happen. Your immune system wigs out and aggravates your symptoms. For me this meant that my whole body would throb and pulsate with aches worse than I had ever felt. The only thing I could do was soak in really hot Epsom salt baths, almost passing out from the heat, until the throbbing subsided.
I scoured illness narratives, trying to glean from them how to cope, and yet in the background of every one of them there was a faithful boyfriend or doting husband. I didn’t have that. My family was 3,000 miles away. So I took myself to a support group in the same hospital where the rheumatologist told me I didn’t have Lyme disease. A man ranted about the lesions in his brain. A nice woman with her hair falling out showed me the PICC line implanted in her arm for IV antibiotics. Stories of going blind. Stories of not being able to walk, think, or read. Seizures. This was Lyme disease, and I cut out early and sobbed on the subway ride home.
After four months of taking antibiotics, I still didn’t feel better. The integrative doctor said maybe it wasn’t Lyme disease after all. She suggested that I see a cognitive therapist to work on my “fear-based thinking,” a therapist to whom she sent her more “difficult” patients.
A year passed.
This is the year that I lost friends. My iPhone Contacts favorites diminished to two friends and my mom.
What was wrong with me? It was all I could think about; it was all I could talk about. I gave up on doctors. Friends, even the ones who had really been there for me in the past, gave up on me. When I did go out, I was masquerading as a well person.
My best friend, who stuck by me, put me in touch with a girl my age who had fibromyalgia. At this point, I halfheartedly resigned myself to this incurable, lifelong condition. At least it was something I could tell my boss and keep my job working from home during the few hours a day I had energy. Really, I wanted to know from this girl: How do you live?
Turns out, she just told people she had fibromyalgia because most people didn’t understand that she could be sick for five years with Lyme disease. Over the phone, we compared our Western blot tests and we had identical positive antibody bands. I was so happy, and so angry.
Then she gave me the name of a Lyme-literate doctor who would not think this was in my head.
When I was 20 years old, a New York City cab driver read my palm. He said I would meet a wonderful man, when I was in my thirties, who would make all the heartbreak worth it. He looked at my lifeline. There is a broken spot, and then it continues. He told me I would get sick and then get better and live a long life.
When I’m alone in my apartment and herxing so badly that I’m curled up in a terrified animal state, I look at my palm and it soothes me.
I tell myself it’s OK to watch every romantic comedy on Netflix and not feel guilty. Guilty pleasures are part of coping, and coping is part of getting better.
I’ve given myself permission to say no to anything and everything that is not necessary to my survival. This is my body. My most important job now is to take care of it.
“Don’t let this disease control you.” I spoke on the phone with a woman who was treated for Lyme disease for 10 years, and is now totally fine. When I asked her how she got through it, she said she always knew that she was going to get better — and wasn’t going to give up her life.