(iVillage Total Health) - People with Crohn's disease may benefit from taking low doses of a drug commonly prescribed to help alcoholics and drug abusers withdraw from their addictions, according to a new study.
Crohn's disease (CD) is a chronic condition that can affect the entire digestive tract, causing inflammation and open sores that may lead to diarrhea, bloody stools, abdominal pain and weight loss. Crohn's most commonly occurs in the last part of the small intestine and the first part of the large intestine. It can cause deep tissue inflammation and can lead to serious medical complications, such as obstruction or perforation of the intestines, which can require surgery.
Researchers from Penn State University found that taking 4.5 milligrams of the drug naltrexone daily for 12 weeks helped Crohn's patients improve their quality of life, including remission of symptoms. Seventeen patients with Crohn's were enrolled in the study. Researchers used a measurement of disease severity called the Crohn's disease activity index (CDAI) to determine whether there was improvement in symptoms following treatment. Quality of life surveys were also conducted every four weeks for four months.
Nearly nine out of 10 participants experienced improvement with therapy and 67 percent reported remission of symptoms. Traditional treatment for Crohn's includes prescribing immunosuppressants, corticosteroids or aminosalicylates to control or reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. But the study's authors noted that these treatments may have side effects, take a long time to show results and can be expensive.
Naltrexone is most frequently used to treat addiction and to opioids and alcohol. It is also sometimes used to rapidly reverse the effects of opioid intoxication or overdose. It works by blocking the opioid receptor to prevent opioid "highs" and any pleasure experienced while drinking alcohol. It also reduces cravings for these substances. Researchers were not certain how the drug causes Crohn's symptom relief and said further study is needed.
"This is a novel approach to treating a common disease, and it's simple, it's safe and it costs far less than current standards of treatment," Dr. Jill P. Smith, a gastroenterologist and the lead researcher, said in a press release.
The study, which was published in the February online issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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