Cortisol Treatments for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Is it Safe & Effective?

Woman looks stressed while reading a book.
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One researcher is calling for doctors to use cortisol treatments for fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS).

Kent Holtorf, M.D., medical director of California's Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection Related Illness, reviewed 50 published studies that looked at how the adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone cortisol, function in people with FMS and ME/CFS. He found that adrenal function is abnormal and that the abnormality is tied to hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction.

The adrenal, hypothalamic and pituitary glands make up what's called the HPA axis, which is a complex set of interactions that help control your reaction to stress and regulate a lot of bodily functions, including temperature, digestion, immune system, and energy. It's also linked to anxiety disorder, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Holtorf says his review also showed that treating this dysfunction with cortisol, a steroid, can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life for people with FMS and ME/CFS. He confirmed this research by following the conditions of 500 patients from his clinic who had been given cortisol as part of their treatment protocol. He found that:

  • 94 percent showed improvement by the fourth visit
  • 62 percent reported substantial improvement
  • energy levels and general sense of well-being doubled by the fourth visit

Holtorf says the effectiveness and safety of treatments including cortisol is confirmed by the findings of more than 40 independent doctors and more than 5,000 patients. He says doses of 5mg to 15mg a day poses little or no risk -- in fact, Holtorf says cortisol treatment is significantly safer than the treatments considered "standard" for both conditions.

This research, however, is preliminary and must be substantiated through double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies. Also, it's important to remember that long-term steroid use carries a wealth of possible side effects, including:

  • psychological problems, including depression
  • adrenal suppression and crisis
  • stomach ulcers
  • osteoporosis
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • cataracts
  • weight gain
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