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Having a Choice: Successful Use of LDN for Difficult-To-Treat Cancers and AutoImmune Diseases

Dr. Burton Berkson
May 01, 2016
Interview with Dr. Burton Berkson of the Integrative Medical Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA.
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Thank you for volunteering to be interviewed by LDNscience.org. How did you originally learn about LDN?

About 18 years ago, a man walked into my office with a walker. He had prostate cancer that was metastatic (had spread) to his bones, and terrible rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and he was in horrible pain. The MD Anderson Cancer Hospital (in Texas) said he only had a few weeks to live and he wanted to know if I’d give him pain medication and I said, “Sure I would.” He asked me if I’d heard of Dr. Zagon at Penn State or Dr. Bihari in New York, and I said no. He said he heard they had a drug that might reverse cancer. So I asked why he didn’t go and see these people. He said, “Well, Dr. Bihari is just in a little office- if he was any good, wouldn’t he be in a university?” I told him that if he could reverse cancer, he’d put these big institutions out of business. They treat cancer, but they don’t cure many cancers. I told him that, many years ago, when I was associated with a university in the mid-west I discovered an inexpensive way (with intravenous alpha lipoic acid) to regenerate livers of people who were on the liver transplant list but couldn’t get them due to insufficient numbers of available organs. They wanted to strangle me. They were interested in liver transplantation, not in the inexpensive reversal of liver disease.

After he listened to my story, he went to go see Dr. Bihari, and didn’t come back, so I thought he died. But three years later, he walks in my office, and without his walker. He told me that Dr. Bihari had stopped the growth of the cancer and cured his rheumatoid arthritis- all with a drug that at that time cost $15 a month: low dose naltrexone. I was very skeptical. But I must have had 60-70 people with rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus in my practice at the time, and I asked them if they wanted to try it. Within 6 months or so, most of them were much improved. Many were completely free of their disease. So, I learned about LDN from that patient.

What made you start treating your cancer patients with LDN?

I had been working with intravenous alpha lipoic acid (IV ALA) for many years; we did the first human clinical studies at the United States’ National Institutes of Health back in the 1970’s. I always thought that would be a good treatment for cancer because it floods cancer cells with oxygen and they tend to die (are forced into an anaerobic metabolism). So I was interested in that, and then when I learned about LDN, I thought I’d combine the two. Then a man came to see me who had pancreatic cancer which had spread to the liver. A big university hospital told him there was no hope and there was nothing else that could be done. He was only 46 years old, had no bad habits, and was basically a healthy man. I asked him if he’d like to try this combination treatment and he agreed. So we gave him the IV ALA and LDN. Within 2 months he went back to work and his disease was non-progressive and symptom-free more than 3 years later (as opposed to most patients with this cancer who succumb to their disease within 6 months after a very painful course). So I wrote up the case and it was published in Integrative Cancer Therapies.

Afterwards, oncologists I knew said to me, “You’re not an oncologist; you have no right to treat cancer.” I said, “Well, you people gave up on him, and I have a Ph.D. in cell biology and microbiology in addition to my M.D. An M.D. can do whatever he wants to if he feels it is to the benefit of a patient.” Nine years later, still on this protocol, that patient’s PET scan was still free of cancer. After him, 3 more people came in, one of whom also had metastatic pancreatic cancer; they had heard about the original person I published about. I treated them the same way, and within 6 months their scans showed no cancer. I published a case series about that as well.

Do you think LDN and ALA work synergistically?

It’s important to understand how both work. We’re alive because of lipoic acid. You eat food, and the food is converted into something called pyruvate. This is done without oxygen. Cancer cells only go this far…they just kind of move sluggishly along, and are very difficult to kill. Normal human cells have to change that pyruvate into acetyl Co A, which is the fuel for the mitochondria (the energy factory of the cell). This is how our cells normally metabolize food. So what turns the pyruvate into the fuel for our cells? There is an enzyme called pyruvate dehydrogenase, and a major part of that enzyme is alpha lipoic acid (ALA). In other words, without lipoic acid, we would not be alive. It converts our food into fuel for the energy factory of our cells. So, ALA forces cancer cell metabolism (without oxygen) into normal metabolism and floods them with oxygen. When this is done, they tend to undergo apoptosis (cell death).

And with low dose naltrexone, it produces a temporary blockade of the opiate release system which fools the brain into thinking there are not enough endogenous opiates in the blood stream. In the morning (when LDN is taken at night), a flood of endogenous opiates are released and at least one or more endorphins (e.g. Met-Enkephalin endorphins) bind to the cancer cells and cause them die.

Do you put all your cancer patients on ALA and LDN?

Yes, all of them. At least 50% of our “terminal” cancer patients go on living with this combination (ALA + LDN) for a longer time. Some just go on living and feel normal.

What evidence do you have that LDN is working well for RA and Lupus?

We have our best results with LDN on rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus. Among our RA patients, we follow their rheumatoid factor. It often goes down to normal after starting LDN, and their pain goes from an 8-10 down to 0-2. With our systemic lupus patients, we follow their anti-nuclear antibodies, and we get the same type of results. I’m preparing a paper now for publication on the results of treating many patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis with just low dose naltrexone. I have so much data on rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and cancer, but I’m so busy, I don’t have the real time to go through the grant application process in order to try to receive funds to support the completion of this work. I still am an adjunct professor at a couple of universities, and it would be nice if I had some funding to finish the papers on rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus with LDN.

Have you seen long-term results?

Ten, eleven years, yes. They are still alive, no one knows they are sick, and they are still working. Pretty remarkable, no?

What kind of patients does your clinic treat?

About 80% come from far away (Australia, Africa, China, Japan, Europe, South America, and all over the US). We don’t do any advertising. It’s all word of mouth. At one time the majority of our patients were seeking reversal of diabetic neuropathy. ALA is the only thing in the world that will reverse diabetic neuropathies. LDN may buffer down the inflammatory markers, but ALA causes new nerve growth and blood vessel growth into the damaged tissues.

In fact, many years ago, I received a call from a doctor at a highly respected medical center who said he had 1200 people with diabetic neuropathies, many of whom were possible candidates for amputation. I was the FDA chief investigator for lipoic acid (it was a prescription drug back then) at that time, but I never heard from that doctor again. Then several years later, I read an article that they took 1200 patients with very serious diabetic neuropathies and gave them IV ALA. Within 3 weeks they grew new blood vessels and nerves in the toes, and most were free of the problem. They stopped using this treatment. I suspect there’s more money in surgery.

Have you found the standard 4.5 mg of LDN works best for your patients?

We usually start with 3 mg, and if they do well on 3 mg we keep them on that. If they are not getting much better, I go up to 4.5 mg.

Have you seen side effects from LDN?

Every once in a while somebody tells me they had a side effect. But sometimes they read about somebody else’s side effects on the internet and all of the sudden they too are having the side effect, like vivid dreams. I take LDN every night to prevent disease, but have never had vivid dreams or anything else. In fact everybody in my family takes it.

Do you find that patients are more compliant with taking LDN than other medications?

Yes, I think that’s probably true. People will take it because it works so well.

How do your colleagues perceive your treatment protocol of LDN with ALA?

Anything that interferes with business is not well-received. There’s a lot of money in chemotherapy. Oncologists, like any other business person, don’t generally like to hear about things that may be effective when they don’t make any money on it. With the cancer patients come to our office, oncology has most often given up on them; they’ve tried all sorts of things that haven’t worked and have been told to go into hospice.

I’ll give you an example of this phenomenon regarding rheumatoid arthritis. I have a brother-in-law who is a medical doctor in Wisconsin; in fact, he’s a vice-president of a big hospital system there. He fell off his motorcycle and injured his hip. One day he called me and told me that he was going to get a hip replacement. He was only in his 50’s at the time. I said, “Don’t do it.” I’ve seen so many people get hip replacements, especially when they are young, and get rheumatoid disease because of it (maybe because of the metals in the replacement). He’s a very active person, he likes to ride his motorcycle, and he likes to run. I asked him how far he could run without pain, and he said about 2 miles. I said, “Don’t run more than 2 miles, and don’t have the hip replacement.”

He decided to have it anyway, and he developed full blown rheumatoid arthritis. His rheumatologist (who works for him in this big hospital system) put him on Enbrel and also Humira at one time. I told him these things can possibly cause cancer. He said he was thinking about getting off of them, but didn’t know what else he could do. I asked him to consider LDN. I wrote him a prescription and he started taking it. Within a very short time his rheumatoid disease almost disappeared- it got much, much better. So he told his rheumatologist about it, and the rheumatologist himself said he had RA also, and he went on it and started getting better.

One day my brother-in-law spoke to the rheumatologist and asked him if he was putting all his RA patients on it. The rheumatologist’s response was “Hell no!” Isn’t that terrible? He’ll do it for himself but not for his patients. There’s a lot of money to be made on drugs, especially if they are injectable. I get many medical doctors as patients and they tell me the same thing, which is really a sick situation.

When people come to me and ask me what they should do, I say the patient should be the boss. The patient should check things out. If they want to go the standard way, I’m not against it go ahead. If you want to do it our way, you can too. It’s still a free country. You decide what you want to do. Many choose to go the conventional route, and others do it our way.

Many years ago, I did that study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) I referred to earlier. We took 79 people waiting for liver transplants, with severe hepatic necrosis (a dead liver, basically), and gave them IV ALA. Seventy-five of the seventy-nine (95%) regenerated their livers within a month. I wrote a short note to the New England Journal of Medicine and it was published. All of the liver doctors I knew said to me, ‘You have no right to treat liver disease. You’re not a liver expert’. I asked if they wanted to know what I did to achieve this. No, they didn’t.

I worked with Dr. Fred Bartter, who was the Chief at the NIH, and he and I were invited to Germany to be visiting professors in Heidelberg, and we gave many speeches there. ALA became a very popular drug in Germany, and in Europe. When I returned to the United States, I was told by a group of people associated with the university system, “Berkson, as far as we’re concerned, you’re a biologist, a microbiologist, a professor. Stay in your laboratory. Teach your students about germs. That’s what you’re an expert in. If you keep telling people they can regenerate their livers without a transplant, you could lose your career.” As a young doctor that was depressing. But that’s the nature of the business.

How is your medical approach different from conventional medicine?

We have a relatively small clinic, and patients come in from all over. They will spend anywhere from a week to six months with us. It’s very laid-back; everyone is on a first-name basis, including myself. People with very serious diseases come in very frightened, and within a short time they relax, are telling jokes and laughing. It’s really a wonderful place, and it’s a pleasure going to work every day.