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Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Hormonal Imbalance

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Medications to counter hormonal imbalances found in many CFS patients are currently being used by doctors around the world with success. Even researchers who feel this therapy may be premature will usually admit that soon such treatments will likely be standard medical care for at least a subset of CFS sufferers.

Endocrine system

Understanding more about the body’s hormone producing organs, otherwise known as the endocrine system, and how the brain orchestrates this system helps to see its connection to CFS.

Prime organs of the endocrine system are the two adrenal glands, one sitting above each kidney. Among the hormones produced by the outer portion of the adrenal glands is cortisol, essential in controlling proper levels of glucose by stimulating liver synthesis of this blood sugar. Cortisol also ensures that glucose is readily available for proper brain functioning by restricting glucose uptake by body tissues. Another benefit of this hormone is that it breaks down fat for use as energy.

Cortisol’s ability to manage blood sugar levels is important in mobilizing energy to deal with physical or emotional stress. While the adrenal glands have a normal cycle of cortisol production, this cycle is interrupted when a particular stressor comes along and cortisol production is increased to provide the necessary response.

This adrenal gland stimulated response to stress works in tandem with the nervous system’s fight-flight response. Hormones, including adrenaline, produced from the inner portion of the adrenals govern the fight-flight reaction. These hormones regulate carbohydrate metabolism when we are excited or stressed. They also increase heartbeat and respiration, preparing the body for either flight to escape from the danger or to fight in defense.

Hormone Imbalance in CFS

The adrenal gland secretions of hormones are controlled through a delicate balance with other hormones produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary glands located in the lower part of the brain.

What researchers are finding is that there appears to be reduced production of hormones of these controlling glands as well as reduced cortisol production in CFS patients. There also appears to be an improper response of these hormones to each other.

Mark Demitrack, M.D. s a leading U.S. researcher on improper hormone function in CFS patients. In his studies of persons with CFS, he has found significant reduction in both blood and urine levels of important adrenal hormones including cortisol.

Demitrack’s investigations, however, have led him to believe the fault is not so much in the adrenal glands as with the nervous system’s interplay and control of these glands. Because malfunctions in this regard negatively impact the body’s ability to cope with stress and because CFS patients’ symptoms often worsen in reaction to physical and emotional response, he feels CFS should be viewed as a stress-related disorder.

Two Irish doctors, Lucinda Scott, MB, MRCPsych and Timothy Dinan, MD, PhD, have also extensively researched neuroendocrine dysfunction, the medical description for abnormal interactions between the nervous system and the hormones of the endocrine system. The doctors’ studies have confirmed much of Demitrack’s findings.

What is more, in the first study of its kind, these doctors discovered the actual size of the adrenal glands in a small group of CFS patients was half that of normal persons. However, like Demitrack, they feel the origin of this problem may not be with adrenals themselves.

Interestingly, immune system problems often seen in CFS correlate with neuroendocrine imbalance since adrenal hormones including cortisol regulate various aspects of immune activity. Under-functioning of the adrenal glands, called hypoadrenalism, could “encourage a state of chronic immunological activation” according to Anthony Komaroff M.D. of Harvard’s School of Medicine. Thus a Dutch study published earlier this year found that ‘the interaction between neuroendocrine system and the immune system is disturbed in CFS.’


Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., in his book From Fatigued to Fantastic, discusses the significance of hormone imbalance in CFS patients. He states that “if the cortisol level is low, the person has fatigue, low blood pressure, hypoglycemia, poor immune function, an increased tendency to allergies and environmental sensitivity, and an inability to deal with stress.” Thankfully for some CFS sufferers who have such symptoms and who have medically confirmed adrenal hormone insufficiency, medical management is possible.

Dr. Teitelbaum explains that in his experience and that of an endocrinologist, persons “with either low hormone production or a low reserve often respond dramatically to treatment with a low dose of adrenal hormone.” Although he acknowledges that some use adrenal glandulars from health food stores, he is concerned that variance in the quality and strength of such supplements could lead to overdosing and toxicity.

Thus he prefers using a prescription hydrocortisone (therapeutic cortisol) such as Cortef. And while many are concerned about use of steroids such as hydrocortisone, Dr. Teitelbaum reassures that the key to avoiding side affects is to avoid the higher dosages, in the range of 25 mg. to 35 mg., used in some trials.

Confirming Dr. Teitelbaum’s conclusions is a British study published in the Lancet in 1999, where doctors from England report using 5-10 mg. daily for one month in persons with CFS. The results were that “about a third of the patients had a clinically significant reduction in fatigue, most to a level at or below that of the general population, with accompanying reductions in disability.” Riccardo Baschetti, M.D., in Italy has also published his favorable results from the use of hydrocortisone in low dosages (10-15mg.) in CFS patients.

Another often recommended treatment for hormone imbalance is carefully graded exercise. (Exercise started at very modest levels and gradually increased in duration and rigor, is necessary to limit the negative consequences of overexertion in CFS patients.) This is because exercise is one of the most potent activators of the adrenal function. Such activity can actually increase cortisol output and alleviate a degree of symptoms.

Much research is currently ongoing in the field of hormone imbalance in CFS patients. However, enough research and evidence has been accumulated to cause many doctors to feel it is now appropriate to treat certain CFS patients with hormone replacement therapy. For some with CFS, this therapy is already bringing greatly needed relief.

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2 thoughts on “Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Hormonal Imbalance”


    Thank you, thank you so much for explaining all this detailed information for us CFS/ME sufferers. If it weren’t for your information I would not learn anything about these terrible conditions. I don’t think out of all the Dr.s I have visited I could learned what I have learned today. I would have to reread to comprehend all this info but its here so I know I can go back and find it if I need that refresher’s course.( because it’s hard to comprehend all that was taught here today) I applaud your for your studies and teachings and above all your patience). The wonderful thing about this is your hitting everything right on the head. I don’t mean to sound rude when I say this but I don’t know much about my conditions that I have had for over 20 years now and I don’t learn anything from most of the Dr’s I have visited because they need to research, like you have done and teach or tell us what the heck is going on. But they don’t know and I couldn’t get a direct answer as to whether or not my EBV came back positive or negative. Two say yes and one says they don’t know. What is that? Confusion for the patient which they are already suffering with. This is such a weird feeling that it is really a hard thing to explain. I’ve been asked to explain the feeling of fibrofog, well let’s see it’s like your in a London Fog. Right? Well they want more. I don’t have more its like your in a fog…….and another thing I would like to add this hasen’t even been understood by my family. I wouldn’t know where to start but a husband who says he understands but dosen’t read couldn’t understand and thats a 38 year marriage and a daughter who dosen’t even call to say how the heck are you they all think this is a joke or we’re faking it.My own mother dosen’t believe that I’m even sick so I’m basically ignored. This really depresses me. They show no interest in my illnesses and that’s another very misunderstood factor to this disease. We all on our own when it comes to going to thae ER or to a Dr’s appointment. So much is put on us and we are oh so ill. Well I have taken enough of your time so back to the drawing boards for you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your expertise.

    Denise Lawrence

  2. doesy says:

    If i damaged my tailbone in my early twentys then fractured it in my 40s, and suffered no problems with it until this Christmas when I also ran one of my famous CFS/ME fevers,(drops to 97.6 first then goes up to 99.9) is it an absess do you think? I am a 51 year old female, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do substance abuse, haven’t had sex in over 2 years (due to separation and inpending divorce)have been walking 3 times a day and for the first time pushing myself to walk briskly in the cold!! I can’t believe it! I am determined to survive this traumtic divorce! (domestic cruelty). I am getting counseling. But it doesn’t hurt when I am on an antibiotic! But its lumpy feeling. I hate being on antibiotics all the time for this junk (CFS/ME). I also have oral candida which makes the congestion and sore throat worse(thicker)! I enjoy staying in my drawing and cartooning, writing a book and computer graphics but the Dr. said that because I sit so much and because at first I was bed ridden (2006 – 2009) most of the time, it has probably just now hit me. His nurse told me she had one and the surgery was nothing! I don’t want toooooo! LOL! After all the tests, the sticking myself in 2006 with heparin and B12 shots, I just don’t want this interuption in my life! Ugh! Enough is enough already ya know? Any thoughts? I just wondered if this was par for the course with CFS/ME, or just par for getting older period. I worry about Ovarian cancer. However, my mother had not had it nor my grandmother and my grandmothers on both sides are 99! The only reason it scares me is my mothers sister had it and now my cousin who is almost 60 has it and lost her bladder. She has tested negative 3 times so she has cleared the first big battle of her treatment and doesn’t need any more. But I keep telling myself not to freak out, this is inflamation from my tailbone and it will go away. Its just more uncomfortable than painful. Will it get larger if I wait? My estranged cut me off from insurance and I don’t have disability yet and I am going to see a Dr. at the free clinic hopefully next week. The Dr. I used to have in the other state I lived in said to not be alarmed but to just have the Dr. have looksy. (I had to leave the state for my own protection if ya know what I mean.) Thanks again.-d. PS:Aren’t we supposed to be on antiobiotics two weeks before surgery as well? Is there anything else I should know for surgery being that I am a CFS/ME patient?

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