Study: Cortisol Could Alleviate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia

According to a study published in the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the administration of cortisol could help alleviate symptoms for patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, two widespread and closely linked diseases that, as the study notes, are poorly understood by many physicians. Although there is no generally accepted test to accurately detect the diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than one million Americans suffer from CFS and estimates that FM affects about 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Debilitating and complex, CFS is characterized by profound fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity. Those with CFS most often function at a substantially lower level of activity than they were capable of before the onset of the illness. In addition, patients report various symptoms, such as weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory and/or mental concentration, insomnia, and post-exertional fatigue lasting more than 24 hours. In some cases, CFS can persist for years. Related but distinct, FM is a chronic pain condition characterized by fatigue and generalized pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons and subsequent sleep and quality of life disturbances. The study notes that many CFS and FM patients express frustration because the cause or causes of the diseases have not been identified and no specific diagnostic tests are available.

But now, as reported in JCFS, Kent Holtorf, M.D., medical director of the Torrance, Calif.-based Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection related illness, is advising a simplified treatment process that may help alleviate the diseases' symptoms. From an extensive review of more than 50 published studies that assessed adrenal function in CFS and FM patients, Holtorf found that the majority of CFS and FM patients displayed abnormal adrenal function due to hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction. The comprehensive review also showed that the majority of patients could be treated for this adrenal dysfunction with cortisol, in doses of as little as 5 mg to 15 mg a day, as part of a multi-system treatment.

"This research provides a new understanding that treating the known causes of illness in CFS and FM can improve the symptoms and quality-of-life of patients who suffer from these conditions," Holtorf says. He adds that his research was confirmed in an observational study following the conditions of 500 patients from his clinic where, of the patients given cortisol as part of their treatment protocol, 94 percent showed improvement by the fourth visit, 75 percent noted significant improvement, and 62 percent reported substantial improvement. In addition, by the fourth visit energy levels and a general sense of well-being for patients doubled, Holtorf says. The effectiveness of this multi-system treatment was further confirmed through the analysis of the cumulative findings of more than 40 independent physicians and more than 5,000 patients, the study says.

"Cortisol treatment carries significantly less risk and a greater potential for benefit than treatments considered to be the standard of care for both conditions," says Holtorf .

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    March 2021

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