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Recalibrating 'fight or flight' – counter-intuitive new treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) & other chronic stress disorders

  [ 18 votes ]   [ 3 Comments ]
By Public Library of Science • • January 23, 2009

“Akin to pulling back a slingshot, temporarily reducing the bioavailability of cortisol pharmacologically causes the HPA axis to overcompensate and launch itself back into a correct regulatory regime.”

A Canadian/U.S. research team has reported a novel approach to stimulating recovery from chronic stress disorders.

Details of the therapeutic model, which exploits the natural dynamics of the body's "fight or flight" system, [can be found online] in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology.(1) In contrast to conventional time-invariant therapy, the researchers propose a well-directed therapeutic push delivered according to an optimal treatment schedule.

The hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal (HPA) axis constitutes one of the body's major control systems, serving to maintain body homeostasis with hormone feedback regulatory loops.

If the HPA axis is driven very far from its natural homeostatic rest point, it may be unable to fully recover the healthy physiologic state. Under such conditions, the HPA axis dysfunction may become chronic.

HPA axis dysfunction has been characterized in disorders including chronic fatigue syndrome [ME/CFS], depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer’s disease.

The research team, consisting of Drs. Amos Ben-Zvi, Suzanne D. Vernon [scientific director of the CFIDS Association of America], and Gordon Broderick, used a relatively simple mathematical description of the HPA axis to show how the complex dynamical behavior of this system could accommodate multiple stable resting states; some corresponding to chronic loss of function characterized by low cortisol, a hormone that modulates immune function.

A robust treatment strategy was designed to take advantage of the body's existing homeostatic mechanism, using a short-duration intervention to assist the HPA axis in re-asserting homeostasis about a healthy equilibrium.

Akin to pulling back a slingshot, temporarily reducing the bioavailability of cortisol pharmacologically causes the HPA axis to overcompensate and launch itself back into a correct regulatory regime.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia estimates that between 1 and 4 million Americans suffer from CFS, and only half have consulted a physician for their illness. The CDC and DePaul University have estimated CFS costs the US economy approximately $30 billion each year in health care and lost productivity.

The researchers propose a theoretical, single intervention therapeutic model that is counter-intuitive and challenges the conventional time-invariant approach to many therapies. Validation of this model will require clinical collaboration.
1. Link to full text article: “Model-Based Therapeutic Correction of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Dysfunction,” Ben-Zvi A, Vernon SD, Broderick G. PLoS Computational Biology, Jan 23, 2009

See also:

• Previous article on this work: “Neuroendocrine and Immune Network Re-modeling in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: An Exploratory Analysis,” Genomics, Sep 4, 2008.

• ProHealth's “Q&A Session with ME/CFS Research Expert Suzanne Vernon, PhD – Dec 5, 2008” - addressing this and other current research funded by the CFIDS Association.

PLoS Disclaimer: This press release refers to an article in PLoS Computational Biology. The release is provided by the article authors. Any opinions expressed in this release or article are the personal views of the journal staff and/or article contributors, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of PLoS. PLoS expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information found in the releases and articles and your use of such information.

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Article Comments Post a Comment

How will this work if you have normal cortisol levels?
Posted by: outofstep
Jan 25, 2009
If you have neuroinflammation and neurotoxic damage and it is causing HPA axis dysfunction then won't it continue until the underlying cause is treated? It looks like this study only addresses one subgroup of CFS patients-the ones who are being studied by the CDC who have something related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Reply Reply

cortisol suppression
Posted by: groupie
Jan 28, 2009
As someone who takes Cortef 20 mg daily for ME/CFS related adrenal insufficiency, I am bowled over by this opposite strategy proposal. Perhaps collapse into extreme weakness following a crisis is the body's intelligence at work?
Reply Reply

More Bandaid Medicine
Posted by: shartau
Feb 15, 2009
I really wish that these physicians would work on CAUSE and CURE instead of more Bandaids. Sick to death of theroeticals. Get on with it.
Reply Reply

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