By Kent Holtorf, M.D.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Fibromyalgia (FM) are illnesses that often coexist and affect millions of Americans. Symptoms vary amongst individuals and commonly include severe fatigue, sleep disturbances, cognitive problems (commonly called ‘brain fog’), muscle pain and multiple infections. Unfortunately, many individuals and physicians continue to deny that these syndromes are legitimate diseases.
The medical literature is, however, very clear that these are legitimate diseases and individuals with these syndromes have measurable hypothalamic, pituitary, immune and coagulation dysfunction. These abnormalities then result in a cascade of further abnormalities, in which stress plays a role.
The pituitary and hypothalamic dysfunction results in multiple hormonal deficiencies that are often not detected with standard blood tests, and autonomic dysfunction, including neurally mediated hypotension.
The immune dysfunction, which includes natural killer cell dysfunction, results in opportunistic infections and yeast overgrowth, making the symptoms worse. Recent studies have shown that the coagulation dysfunction is usually initiated by a viral infection and has genetic predisposition. This abnormal coagulation results in increased blood viscosity (‘slugging’) and a deposition of soluble fibrin monomers along the capillary wall. This results in tissue and cellular hypoxia, resulting in fatigue, and decreased cognition (brain fog). Neurotransmitter abnormalities and macro and micro nutrient deficiencies have also been shown to occur with these disorders.
Gulf War Syndrome, which is almost identical to CFS and FM, was found to have a parallel cause. The cause was determined to be from multiple vaccinations under stressful conditions in susceptible individuals. These vaccines, which are viral mimics, resulted in the same coagulation cascade and the deposition of fibrin monomers, resulting in the same tissue hypoxia that occurs in FM and CFS. As a result, these multiple injections are being discontinued by the armed forces.
Current research suggests that many triggers can initiate a cascade of events, causing the hypothalamic, pituitary, immune and coagulation dysfunction. The most common initiating cause is a viral infection, which is very commonly Epstein-Barr Virus, Cytomegalovirus or HHV6. These are found in 80% of CFS and FM patients. Many people with these syndromes can pinpoint the onset of the disease(s) to a viral infection that never got better. Also, stress seems to be a contributing factor. Effective treatment, with 80 to 90 percent of individuals achieving significant clinical benefits, can be achieved by simultaneously treating the above problems that an individual is found to have.
The mix of treatments needed varies from patient to patient. There are some abnormalities that are common. For instance, close to 100% of individuals with these syndromes have low thyroid. This is, however, usually not picked up on the standard blood tests because the TSH is not elevated in these individuals due to pituitary dysfunction. Many of these individuals will also have high levels of the anti-thyroid reverse T3, which is usually not measured on standard blood tests. In addition, the majority of individuals can also have a thyroid receptor resistance that is not detected on the blood tests. Consequently, thyroid treatment, especially with timed release T3, is effective for many patients. T4 preparations (inactive thyroid) such as Synthroid and Levoxyl do not work well for these conditions.
Adrenal insufficiency and growth hormone deficiency are also very common with these disorders, and supplementation with these hormones can often have profound effects. As with thyroid testing, these deficiencies are, unfortunately, usually not detected with the standard screen blood tests and require more specific testing.
When an individual is found to have one of the viruses discussed above, these can be treated with resulting improvement in symptoms. There are a number of drugs, including anti-viral medication, that are currently undergoing phase III clinical trials at clinics, including ours [Hormone and Longevity Medical Center], for FDA approval in the treatment of FM and CFS.
Although a concept that is sometimes uncomfortable and foreign to traditional medical styles of thinking, the need for multiple interventions is effective when an illness affects a critical control center (such as the hypothalamus), which impacts the multiple systems noted above. Unfortunately, there is not a single treatment that reverses hypothalamic dysfunction directly. Thus, this situation is different from illnesses that affect a single target organ and which can be treated with a single intervention.
For example, pituitary dysfunction itself often requires treatment with several hormones. This effect is multiplied in hypothalamic dysfunction, which affects several critical systems in addition to the pituitary gland. An integrated treatment approach based on simultaneously treating the above problems is significantly beneficial in CFS and FMS. Individuals with these devastating syndromes can “get their lives back” despite the fact that they were previously told, “There is nothing that can be done,” or “It is all in your head.”
Kent Holtorf, M.D.
Hormone and Longevity Medical Center