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Autoimmune Disease Treatment with Fewer Drugs

By Elaine Moore on 3/7/2016

A fascinating article, "Healing Without Drugs," in the March 11, 2016 issue of The Week describes inducing a Pavlovian type response to reduce drug dosages while deriving the same benefits as a higher drug dose. The article is excerpted from an article that originally appeared in

This was first demonstrated in 1983 in a pediatric patient with severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) with symptoms of hypertension, kidney inflammation, seizures and uncontrolled bleeding due to an antibody-mediated reduction in clotting factors. Needing to use a very toxic drug Cytoxan to reduce symptoms, the patient's doctor agreed to a phenomenon seen in immunology where the body reacts in the same way to a medicine as it does to an associated trigger, such as ingesting it in a highly colored drink. The benefits of the drug can be attained at lower or no doses when the highly colored drink is given.

 In 1975, the psychologist Robert Ader at the University of Rochester in New York used a similar experiment using Cytoxan with saccharine. In this animal study, the subjects eventually refused to drink the solution even though they had previously loved the sweet taste of saccharine. By associating the sweet taste with the drug, which made them feel sick, they refused to drink plain saccharine solutions.  The mother of the pediatric patient had seen this article and asked her physicians about trying this strategy. The strategy worked and the patient was able to use half of the recommended dose, bringing her symptoms into control without the side effects associated with a higher dose.

As long ago as 1920 Russian immunologists were using these concepts to modulate the immune system. Today, the effects of drinking a solution first used in conjunction with a powerful cocktail of immunosuppressant drugs are being studied in a lupus patient in Germany.  The patient is an expanded trial that began in 2013. In addition, animal studies suggest that this approach may be useful in the treatment of both cancers and autoimmune disorders. 

While this approach is currently outside of mainstream medicine and more of academic interest at this point, it's relevance is particularly important for patients on particularly toxic drugs. It's unlikely that pharmaceutical companies will initiate any studies to this effect and unfortunate that much of the research on therapeutic drugs is conducted by these companies.

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