Friday, March 15, 2024

Treating Endocrine (Hormone) Dysfunction in ME/CFS

I just updated my summary of ME/CFS Treatments (always available through the tab at the top of the page on my blog). It provides a good roadmap for patients and doctors to all of the many effective treatments that are available now for ME/CFS and long-COVID. Many of those treatments are inexpensive and readily available everywhere. I had to add a whole new section on treating endocrine dysfunction because it's something I hadn't covered completely on my blog in the past. I decided to reprint it here, as a new blog post, to be sure everyone sees it.

ME/CFS causes severe endocrine dysfunction--that's the part of the body that controls hormones, and hormones control everything. Messed-up hormones are behind sleep dysfunction (which can be corrected) and are one factor behind Orthostatic Intolerance, too. Since deep, good quality sleep is essential to the endocrine system, correcting sleep dysfunction should be your first step. As my doctor told me 21 years ago, getting good sleep will improve everything (she was right). 

(Note that an endocrine specialist is usually only focused on diagnosing and treating primary endocrine disease, like Graves' disease, Hashimoto's, and others. It may be helpful to see one to rule these kinds of things out, but for most patients with ME/CFS, your primary care doctor or GP can help you with the areas outlined below.)

Here are some other areas of endocrine dysfunction:

Sex Hormones:

Sex hormones can wreak havoc in ME/CFS, too. When I was younger, I got much, much worse whenever I had my period. My doctor switched me to 90-day low-dose birth control pills, which worked great! They keep my hormone levels steady for 3 months at a time. Then, every 12-14 weeks, I stopped taking them for 5 days, got a period, and then went back on them. So, instead of crashing from my period every 4 weeks (25% of my life!), it was just 5 days out of every 3 months or so or 4 times a year. Much better!

In 2022, my OB/GYN told me she was retiring. Since I was 57, she said I had to be fully in menopause by then (our plan was to keep me on the birth control pills until I was past menopause, to prevent worsening from menopause symptoms). She wanted to see me through the transition before she left (yes, she was wonderful). We both knew it would be rough--after decades of holding my hormone levels perfectly steady--but it was much worse than we'd expected! That sudden shift in hormones left me completely wiped out, all my ME/CFS symptoms worse, and mostly bedridden/couchbound. I waited six weeks for the artificial hormones to clear out of my system, got tested, and I was indeed fully past menopause. Then, she started me on Estradiol patches (estrogen replacement, also known as Hormone Replacement Therapy or HRT), along with progesterone pills. As my hormone levels evened out again, I returned to my previous (pretty good) level of functioning. My new OB/GYN has agreed this is a long-term treatment for me because of my ME/CFS (there are risks, though, so it should be discussed with your doctor. Mine ordered tests first).

Testosterone cream can also be helpful to some, especially men with low testosterone.


For many, many years, I said that thyroid dysfunction was very common in ME/CFS but that I didn't have it. Boy, was I wrong! After that awful transition off birth control pills at the end of 2022, my thyroid was severely dysfunctional. Hormones are all connected (the endocrine system), so when one is off, it can throw the whole system off. This is another reason why it is so critical to correct sleep dysfunction

I was already on a low dose of one medication for hypothyroidism, but it clearly wasn't enough. I spent a full year, working with my primary care physician to normalize my thyroid function--getting lab tests (which ones is critical), adjusting medications, waiting two months to retest, etc. Finally, by the end of 2023, with medications and supplements, my thyroid was functioning well. I'm now feeling the best I have felt in years! 

And, by the way, I lost over 20 pounds just from normalizing my thyroid function (no change in diet at that time), and I am at a healthy weight I haven't seen in 20 years. That tells me that my thyroid was off for a long time. This post explains all about Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Dysfunction in ME/CFS and Long-COVID, including which tests to ask for.

Low Cortisol:

Low cortisol all the time is a hallmark of ME/CFS. However, the top ME/CFS experts do NOT usually recommend taking hydrocortisone for low cortisol. The biggest problem is that when you add in artificial cortisone, your body stops producing it on its own. So, you take a patient who is already not making enough cortisol and give them something that makes the situation even worse over the long-term. It is likely to help in the short-term but should not be continued for more than a month or so. 

A better approach is one that has worked well for me. The endocrine system dysfunction that causes low cortisol is closely tied to all the other dysfunctional systems in ME/CFS; it's all interrelated, especially in the endocrine system. So, when you treat and correct other problems, the endocrine system just naturally self-corrects and normalizes. So, instead of treating low cortisol directly, treat immune dysfunction, correct sleep dysfunction (a huge factor in endocrine problems), treat OI, correct methylation, treat thyroid dysfunction, and treat underlying infections. When you do those things, the endocrine system just naturally begins to normalize. This has worked well for me, and when I had my 24-hour cortisol test, it was perfectly normal! It showed the expected higher cortisol in the morning, slowly decreasing during the day to a low point at night. 

 Do you have any experience in treating these types of endocrine dysfunction or any others?

Let us know what helped (or didn't).

Please leave a comment below.

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Anonymous said...

How long did it take for your hormones to balance out when you started the estrogen patches & progesterone pill? Did you feel worse before you felt better? Thanks

Sue Jackson said...

I started to feel better almost immediately and did not get worse first. I was in really bad shape because of the sudden shift from decades of steady hormones (on the BC pill) to suddenly withdrawing them. My new OB/GYN worked with me to find the right dose of progesterone.

Hope that helps - let me know if you have any other questions -


Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

I’m curious which BC pill you took? I’m bed-bound do a little worried about clots but I reacted terribly to the progesterone only mini pill.


Sue Jackson said...

Hi, Anon -

I was on a 90-day combination pill for many, many years. I took it for 12-14 days straight and then took a 5-day break. That really helped hold hormone levels steady and greatly reduced the bad crash I'd get whenever I got a period. It went by various names over the years, including Seasonale and Quasense.

Hope you find one that works for you - that really helped me!