There’s been a lot of buzz over the past week about a study published in the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that suggests treating fibromyalgia and ME/CFS with cortisol (a steroid), based on the fact that most patients have low cortisol levels. I do not have access to that publication, but would like to point out some concerns.
First, most of the reports are not clear about the fact that this was a literature study, rather than a controlled clinical study.
Second, while at least one story did claim that the literature study was followed up with an “observational study” in which all of the FMS/CFS/ME patients in a particular clinic were given cortisol. That does not meet the standards of a controlled, clinical study, which would require an untreated control group and a group receiving placebos instead of cortisol.
There have been multiple clinical studies of the effects of steroids on FMS/CFS/ME. I found records of studies of prednisone and hydrocortisone, in particular. Those studies did not find any positive effects from treatment compared to placebos, and in some cases there were significant problems resulting from the treatments. I did not find a study specifically involving cortisol, but I don’t know if that’s because there hasn’t been one or because I don’t have access to the appropriate databases. (I’m sure there are more studies out there, but I don’t have access to Medline.)
I’d strongly suggest waiting for the results of repeatable, controlled clinical tests of cortisol before trying steroid treatment. Steroids have serious side effects, and should not be taken lightly.