Honest Medicine: Overlooked But Effective Treatments

Treatments Include Low-Dose Naltrexone for Autoimmune Diseases

Honest Medicine Julia Schopick
Julia Schopick
Julia Schopick is a patient advocate and founder of the website, HonestMedicine.com. Her focus is on making the public aware of overlooked treatments for common health problems; treatments that have been typically been sidelined by conventional medicine, in favor of more expensive, commercial – and sometimes far less effective -- treatments.

Her new book, "Honest Medicine," focuses on four of these overlooked treatments, including the ketogenic diet for pediatric epilepsy; intravenous alpha lipoic acid for terminal liver disease and some cancers; Silverlon for non-healing wounds; and low-dose naltrexone (LDN) for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, as well as HIV/AIDS and some cancers.

I had an opportunity to do a Q&A with Schopick to discuss her book in greater depth — in particular, the discussions on autoimmune conditions, including autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto's and Graves' disease.

Mary Shomon: What made you decide to become a patient advocate and write this book?

Julia Schopick: I've been a public relations consultant for 25 years and never planned to become a patient advocate. But in 1990, my husband of five years, Tim Fisher, was diagnosed with a very serious, cancerous brain tumor. For the first five years after his diagnosis, we dutifully followed his doctors' orders and recommendations. Tim had surgery and underwent chemotherapy and radiation — the commonly prescribed treatments for his condition.

But after five years, it became clear that the side effects and complications from the treatments were becoming more severe and were, in fact, beginning to take over our lives.

These complications included a radiation-caused stroke, hydrocephalus (water on the brain), and intermittent seizures.

Tim was hospitalized many times, and had a number of additional surgeries to deal with these complications. I decided that, if I was to have Tim around for many more years — and in relatively good shape — I'd better start looking for therapies and treatments that might increase his survival and his quality of life.

I took my role as Tim's advocate more seriously, and found many such treatments, and to my delight Tim lived 15 years after his diagnosis - 12 years longer than his doctors had predicted.

Because of my success advocating for Tim, my friends and colleagues started seeking my help. This led to the creation of my website, HonestMedicine.com, where I began posting information about innovative treatments that many patients and doctors wouldn't know about because they get marginalized by more commercially known treatments.

Along the way, one situation in particular made me determined to spread the word about effective, non-toxic, inexpensive treatments. In 2002, Tim had a recurrence of his brain tumor and, after this surgery, his suture line wouldn't heal. The doctors performed eight unsuccessful additional surgeries in eight months, trying to close and heal the wound. The repeated surgeries made him worse, until finally he was brain injured and paralyzed from the surgical assaults on his body.

I was frantic and searched everywhere for answers. Finally, through a doctor friend, I heard about a treatment — Silverlon — and it worked overnight. I was thrilled, and assumed his doctors would be too.

But they weren't. In fact, they weren't even open to learning about it.

So I set out to tell the story of Silverlon, along with other treatments that were also inexpensive, life-saving and had stood the test of time. And I highlighted several of the most time-tested and promising of these treatments in Honest Medicine.

Mary Shomon: Why is there controversy in the conventional medical world over these four treatments?

Julia Schopick: The main reason is that for the most part, while smaller and promising trials have been conducted on these treatments, they haven't gone through the research "gold standard," namely, large class-1 randomized double-blind studies.

And they aren't likely to be researched to that extent, because pharmaceutical companies conduct most of the studies, and, frankly, these treatments I write about are relatively inexpensive, and don't promise a profitable return on investment.

Mary Shomon: My community of readers include many people with autoimmune thyroid diseases like Hashimoto's and Graves' disease. Can you tell us a bit more about what you learned about one of the treatments you feature in Honest Medicine - low-dose naltrexone (LDN) - and its use for autoimmune diseases?

Julia Schopick: I think that the story of low-dose naltrexone is perhaps the most amazing story in my book. Dr. Bernard Bihari was a very creative, curious neurologist. In the mid-1980s, he found that naltrexone in very tiny doses helped people with autoimmune diseases. Naltrexone was approved by the FDA in higher doses for drug and alcohol addiction.

Unfortunately, Dr. Bihari died last year, but his friend and colleague, Dr. David Gluck, contributed a chapter. In Honest Medicine, Dr. Gluck writes:

LDN is absolutely unique. And that's part of its problem, in that it's a brand new paradigm, a new way of thinking of treatment. Instead of the medication actually doing the work, LDN goes into the body and essentially tricks the body by forcing it to double and triple its output of endorphins and metenkephalin, also known as opioid growth factor (OGF). Those endorphins and metenkephalin, in turn, cause the immune system to strengthen. A nice way to think about LDN is that it is not like any other medication whatsoever. It is a way to strengthen the immune system.
I couldn't have said it any better myself.

Mary Shomon: What other uses are there for the LDN besides autoimmune disease treatment?

Julia Schopick: LDN appears to be effective for some diseases that have at their core a disturbed immune system. This includes HIV/AIDS and many cancers. And, in the mid-1990s, another one of my book's contributors, Dr. Burt Berkson, began to use LDN in combination with intravenous alpha lipoic acid to treat some very serious forms of cancer.

In fact, Paul Marez, another of my book's contributors, is an eight-year survivor of metastatic pancreatic cancer. As we all have heard, pancreatic cancer is often considered an automatic death sentence. In fact, MD Anderson (a cancer hospital in Texas) told Paul that he had just months to live. But he found Dr. Berkson and the LDN/IV alpha lipoic acid, and the rest is history.

Mary Shomon: Are there safety issues or downsides to the use of LDN for autoimmunity?

Julia Schopick: The doctors and patients I interviewed for the book didn't have negative feedback about LDN. Naltrexone was approved in the mid-1980s for use in addiction treatment, usually at a dose of around 50 mg, and found to be safe at that dose. That dose is more than 10 times the "low-dose" level being used to treat autoimmune diseases. From what I understand, many physicians specializing in addiction safely prescribe doses even higher than 50 mg.

One key "side effect" that people do complain about with LDN is "vivid dreams." (Of course some people-my mother, for example, who takes LDN for her chronic lymphocytic leukemia, say they enjoy their dreams much more with LDN!)

Of course patients need to talk to their doctors about the risks, benefits and side effects of any treatments they pursue.

Mary Shomon: What about research and studies to support some of the patient claims about LDN?

Julia Schopick: There is research to support the patient evidence for LDN. Small, but very positive studies have been conducted. They are listed in my book, and are also on several websites, including http://www.lowdosenaltrexone.org and http://www.LDNScience.org. Many of the studies have to do with multiple sclerosis, and in fact, one study-conducted at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) was funded by LDN advocates. It is very unusual for patients to raise funds for studies. There have also been some very positive studies on LDN for Crohn's disease, conducted by Ian Zagon, PhD and Jill Smith, MD at Penn State. These studies were published in respected medical journals.

Mary Shomon: Why do you feel that many rheumatologists, endocrinologists and neurologists who are treating autoimmune patients don't know about LDN in the first place?

Julia Schopick: Dr. Berkson explained it very well in Honest Medicine. He said that doctors are not encouraged to think "outside the box." He goes so far as to say that doctors are trained, rather than educated, and that they are "supposed to" get all their knowledge from their medical school education and their journals.

And, remember that most large-scale clinical trials are conducted by pharmaceutical companies, and that no pharmaceutical company would be able to get a decent return on their investment by conducting trials on LDN, and you have some key reasons why these specialists are not prescribing - or even hearing about - LDN.

Mary Shomon: Why do you think that some doctors who have heard about the use of LDN still won't prescribe it?

Julia Schopick: To me, this is the most upsetting part of what I found out while researching and writing Honest Medicine. So many of the people I spoke with told me that they learned about LDN from their friends, or from forums on the Internet, and then they found a doctor to prescribe it.

When their condition improved, they were confident that their regular doctors would pick up the ball and prescribe it for them. But that usually didn't happen. Patients reported having to push doctors to even consider the option, and one patient jokingly said that the doctor doctor probably prescribed LDN just to get rid of her!

Mary Shomon: What do you suggest for autoimmune patients who are interested in finding a practitioner who might be open and knowledgeable about LDN?

Julia Schopick: In my book's appendix, I include links to several pages of information about LDN that patients take to their doctors. They can also go into the forums and chat groups, where patients share information about how to find a doctor to prescribe it. Integrative doctors are generally more open to treatments like LDN, so, patients can contact organizations like ACAM) to find a more open-minded doctor. Another way is to contact one of the compounding pharmacists who are known to compound LDN correctly, and ask them for the names of doctors in your geographical area who prescribe LDN. (Several of these compounding pharmacists are listed on www.lowdosenaltrexone.org.)

Mary Shomon: Where can readers find out more about the book Honest Medicine?

Julia Schopick: More information can be found at www.HonestMedicine.com, as well as the Honest Medicine Facebook page. I also invite readers to contact me directly at Julia@HonestMedicine.com, if they have any questions.

Note: You can listen to a radio interview I did with Julia Schopick, talking about "How to Be Your Own Patient Advocate," in this streaming program, or download or share a free MP3 copy of the interview.