Can LDN help with Depression?

Dr Elizabeth Livengood
Dr Elizabeth Livengood

The short answer is, “Yes, it can help marvellously with all kinds of depression” and primarily the type that does not respond to standard pharmaceuticals. Most people will have been diagnosed by their primary care doctor or sent to a psychologist or psychiatrist if they have had any experience with standard pharmaceuticals and didn’t respond. Then they are definitely a good candidate for LDN. I’ll explain why in a moment.
There are other subsets of people who, when they hear this and hear the symptoms that go with this type of depression that LDN is particularly good for, you may be able to bypass the pharmaceutical step altogether and just give LDN a try. Now, as in most cases, not that LDN would be used on its own; the wonderful thing is that it can be used in conjunction with other medications and certainly symptom-specific treatments. All kinds of other treatments:  herbs, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, nutrient or amino acid therapy, and so on.
So who are the people that could benefit from LDN in the case of depression? Primarily, when depression is caused by inflammation or other circumstances that cause inflammation - such as chronic illness, an injury that caused a huge life change, chronic pain, autoimmune conditions. There’s sort of a cycle where we lose the chicken-and-the-egg effect, where we don’t know which one came first and the truth is, it almost doesn’t matter. LDN can help.
Some of the symptoms that go with that include feeling fatigued, lack of motivation, lack of interest in activities in life, sleep disruption (whether too much, too little), same with appetite (too much, too little), weight which could be weight gain or weight loss that’s unintentional, and there’s also an anxiety component often times when we’re dealing with any of these things:  sleep disruption, chronic illness, autoimmune conditions, and of course chronic depression. So that anxiety might seem like the opposite, but in fact, it sometimes is a component of depression.
There’s also a whole other physical component that could be adrenal insufficiency. That’s when we’ve endured a long period of stress, the adrenals just can’t keep up with that. They’re designed to have bursts of stress and then a period of relaxation. We rarely get that in modern-day life so this is a pretty common problem. That can lead to digestive upset, food sensitivities, and that by the way is another route into autoimmune conditions.
And then finally, some of the mental symptoms could be cognitive fog, lack of focus, poor memory, lack of decision making, lack of motivation which we talked about already, and some of these are actually dopamine issues. Interestingly, LDN can help with those too. So, whether it’s a physical cause, inflammatory, mental (in terms of dopamine reduction or chronic stress), LDN can help with all of these. It is an inflammation modulator. It is also a modulator of dopamine. So it acts on our own internal opioid system, the endogenous opioid system in our brain. It regulates it, not in a unilateral way, but in a modulatory way. Kind of like your thermostat on your air conditioner or heater, where you have a set point. You have a sweet spot. And the thermostat will regulate it very close to that sweet spot. That’s what LDN does for our dopamine and our own opioid production in the brain.
So given all that, the reduction in inflammation, the regulation of dopamine in a healthy way (not in a too-high or too-low kind of way), this can really help with all kinds of depression, and especially if you have not responded to pharmaceuticals, this is a great choice for most people. Of course, you wouldn’t want to be taking high dose opioids in addition to that since we are working on the opioid system.
So definitely worth a try. Definitely compatible with lots of other treatments or supplements that you may be taking. And usually what we see is that within about a week, most of my patients say, “Overall, I just feel a little better”. That’s when I know we are on the right track.