The Story

During the Second World War military authorities became concerned about the growing addiction problem among service men living under the stressful conditions of battle and separation from their families. Out of these concerns medical research developed a synthetic medication called “Naltrexone,” an opiate antagonist that binds to the opiate receptors in the brain and reduces the effects of and craving for mind altering drugs and alcohol. Naltrexone has been used for addiction for many years, although not with the full success anticipated because many who are addicted do not really want to break their habits and so stop taking the medication.

Then in the mid 1980’s a New York physician, Dr. Bernard Bihari, started using Naltrexone with AIDS patients, many of whom were addicted to opiates, to help their drug cravings. Dr. Bihari found that the subgroup on Naltrexone began to suffer the symptoms of AIDS more rapidly and extensively than those who were not. He realized that Naltrexone, at the FDA approved dosage (50mg) he was using, actually impaired the immune system. Bihari then made contact with Penn State researcher Dr. Ian Zagon’s and his work; Zagon had learned in Naltrexone animal studies that immunity improved as he lowered the dose of Naltrexone. As a consequence, Bihari began to lower the dosage to see if he could find a level that still worked as an opiate antagonist and yet didn’t compromise the immune system. He finally arrived at a dosage less than one-tenth (3-4.5 mgs) of the recommended level for Naltrexone, at which not only did the immune systems of his patients no longer suffer the bad effects of the medication, but their immune systems actually grew stronger and the vast majority of those who were HIV positive did not go on to develop the symptoms of AIDS.

Medicine sometimes stumbles onto “inadvertent discoveries”—medications or treatments that were not expected at all and, therefore, not the result of systematic research. Penicillin is a classic example of such a discovery—and Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN) may turn out to be as important in the treatment of many autoimmune diseases, AIDS included, as that major anti-biotic breakthrough was for infection.

In treating over 300 HIV positive individuals with LDN over a period of almost 20 years, Dr. Bihari found that about 94% of them never developed the symptoms of full-blown AIDS. He reported his results at two major international conferences on AIDS in 1985-6 but the absence of a controlled study and the lack of interest on the part of “Big Phama” diluted the impact of his work. LDN was made generic in 1997 and became quite inexpensive. Never having established substantial sales anyway and now in generic form, LDN elicited even less interest from the pharmaceutical industry. Not being able to “own” a generic drug, corporate profitability did not make LDN attractive to them.

Fortunately, that didn’t stop Dr. Bihari from continuing his treatment of HIV positive individuals and, of even greater significance to our story, several years ago he found a receptive audience to his goal of bringing LDN into the mainstream of HIV medicine in–of all places–the sub-Saharan country of Mali. A prominent family in Mali—the Nafo’s—and several scientists at the University of Bamako Hospital worked with Bihari in creating a protocol for a controlled study of LDN in comparison with the conventional anti-retroviral, or ”HAART” medications. All that was needed then was the necessary funding—about $250,000—and the formal approval of the Mali IRB (the organization that is comparable to our CDC and FDA combined). Unfortunately, around that time, Dr. Bihari became ill himself and was not able to pursue his dream with his previous vigor and devotion. An associate, Dr. David Gluck did his best to carry on Bihari’s work, but the project languished, in part because of the lack of funding interest and also because the Nafo’s and the scientific team in Bamako were so far away from New York both in distance and culture.

Now rewind time back to the early 1990’s when a new epidemic of Autism Spectrum Disorder began to swell the numbers of children with autism from one in 10,000 to the current levels of one in 150. The epidemic involved children who typically demonstrated autistic symptoms rather suddenly around the age of 18 months after developing normally before that time. The controversy as to the triggers for this now irrefutable world-wide crisis started at least ten years ago and continues to inflame the current autism scene today. The extent to which the mercury preservative in childhood vaccines, other poisons in our increasingly toxic world and the overuse of antibiotics have been triggers for those children genetically predisposed to autism remains a debate. We happen to believe these triggers were the primary cause of the start of the ASD epidemic—but that’s another story.

There were still the children who did not plunge into autism in this way but showed autistic symptoms from birth and, in 1997, we reluctantly acknowledged that our beloved granddaughter Chelsey at almost 3 yrs of age was one of those children. That launched Jaquelyn into a full throttle return to medicine after years as a psychiatrist working therapeutically with individuals and specializing in anti-aging, brain chemistry, and bio-identical hormonal supplementation. Within a few years Jaquelyn became a core member of the Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) group of clinicians and researchers founded by Dr. Bernard Rimland, a major pioneer in the biomedical treatment of ASD. Inspired by her work with Chelsey and the DAN! group, Jaquelyn wrote a best-selling book in 2002, Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Guide to the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. A picture of Chelsey has appeared on every one of the covers of the three editions and over 40,000 copies of her book that are being used all over the world. The book has been translated into Indonesian, Turkish, Polish and soon will appear in other languages as well.

Autism is a complex, primarily gut-based immune dysregulation disorder resulting in cognitive, language, and sociability impairment. Diets containing the large peptides of gluten and casein send opiate-like chemicals to the brain. When Jaquelyn first heard about Dr. Bihari’s work in 2005, she immediately thought of the possibilities of LDN in the treatment of ASD children. That led her to the work of researchers Jaak Pangsepp, Paul Shattock and others who had attempted to use Naltrexone at the regular dose in autism but without a lot of success. Within a year she had completed two informal studies using LDN with about 75 children that produced promising results. Along with molecular pharmacist, Dr. Tyrus Smith, of Coastal Compounding Pharmacy in Savannah, GA, Jaquelyn soon developed a dermatological LDN cream that can be used with infants and children. At this time, there are some 8,000 ASD children being treated with LDN. LDN has become the preferred treatment for MS and is gaining favor in the treatment of fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease and other auto-immune illnesses (see elsewhere on this web site). What is sorely lacking is a controlled study of LDN in the treatment of HIV+.

In a way, the availability of LDN in the form of a cream became the catalyst for our desire to awaken the dormant Mali Project as we both began to learn more about the desperate plight of the millions of HIV positive infants and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. To have a generic, inexpensive, easily implemented medication that might literally save the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of HIV positive children was irresistible. Before we knew it our seventy-plus minds, hearts and resources were on the table. Jaquelyn took on getting the Mali Project going and invited Jack to join with her in making it happen.

The two of us had already learned how to work together in the field of autism, all the way from Jack’s extensive commitment to Chelsey’s healing to his contributions to Jaquelyn’s book. More deeply our whole relationship has slowly moved from being ”ours” to being devoted to the “Mistress of Healing”—that form of the Divine Feminine that uses the power of Eros to bring the sentient world into balance and then renewal. The synergy in this vision is not to be minimized.

As Jack got involved in finding a 501(c) 3 fiscal sponsor for the Mali Project, it became clear that a strictly medical research project in a foreign country was a tough sell. The various candidates for the role of sponsorship wanted the Project to have a social/cultural component as well as a medical one. Of course, the social/cultural roots of the HIV/AIDS epidemic /AIDSHI are completely self-evident. In recent years the spread of HIV in Africa and other parts of the so called “Developing World” clearly feeds on the inability of women to protect their own health and the health of their children. As we discuss elsewhere on this site, 65% of the new cases of HIV in Africa are women. That means millions of infants have and are being born HIV positive in Africa and in parts of Asia as well. Most of these children will not live to celebrate their second birthday unless something dramatic is done—and done very soon. The lack of empowerment of women in so called Developed Countries is a strong factor in the spread of AIDS there as well, even if the impact is less obvious to discern.

The empowerment of women and that part of the male which is or needs to be in tune with the world’s need for feminine values and instincts is part of the core of our life’s vision now—and the substance of our writing. So it took us only a short time to commit ourselves and our relationship to the Mali Project—and that was before our visit of last December (see the “About Mali” portion of this site). We discovered then, in a conversation with the Mali HIV/AIDS Minister, that the government had already launched a country-wide campaign to empower women as a way to stem the growing epidemic!

So by the time the Ojai Foundation agreed to be our fiscal sponsor (out of respect for our long devotion to the organization–Jack has been on the Foundation Board for 25 years and one of its co-chairs for 18) we had already added the “Gender Education and Communication Program” (GECP) to the LDN Project. The GECP involves the medical study participants volunteering to sit in monthly councils to discuss gender-based empowerment issues and how they relate to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The use of council—the hallmark of The Ojai Foundation since its inception in 1979 and Jack’s focus for even a greater number of years brought him fully into the Mali landscape, hook, line and sinker (see his book, “The Way of Council“). The first council training for Mali facilitators took place in May of 2007 and a second will be offered this November when we both return to Bamako to help with the project. We will be writing more about the experience of bringing the practice of council to Africa and how much we have to learn in doing so–despite our many years of experience about the practice—at another time. The fact that gender empowerment balance will be supported in the country of Mali through council as part of the clinical study of LDN is remarkable in itself.

How all these threads, woven together over many years, have led us to this moment reveals the way the Universe works—clearly in mysterious ways. The threads have been many and varied: addiction, Naltrexone, a fortuitous medical discovery by two devoted and talented researchers, autism in our own family, a devoted and inspired grandmother, the plight of millions of people in the continent of human origin, a Mali family who wants to help its people, talented researchers at the University of Bamako, the Ojai Foundation, the ancient practice of council and now you….all of these threads are weaving a story whose unfolding is still to come.