DHEA levels are raised in CFS and correlate with the degree of self-reported disability. Hydrocortisone therapy leads to a reduction in these levels towards normal, and an increased DHEA response to CRH, most marked in those who show a clinical response to this therapy.” On the other hand, there have been a number of recent studies that have investigated the role of DHEA supplementation in patients with adrenal insufficiency. In this condition, DHEA(-S) levels appear to be reduced in parallel to the reduction in cortisol, and replacement therapy with DHEA appears to give additional benefits over and above that seen with cortisol replacement (Arlt et al., 1999; Hunt et al., 2000). It is also of interest to note the recent literature regarding the importance of the cortisol/DHEA ratio in major depression, where an emerging literature suggests that it is a high cortisol/DHEA ratio that may be the most important indicator of excessive physiological effects of cortisol on the brain (Goodyer et al., 2001; Young et al., 2002). In other words, either low DHEA or high cortisol could contribute to the excess cortisol effect on the brain.” Hydrocortisone may reduce elevated DHEA in chronic fatigue patients. On the other hand, low DHEA in adrenal insufficiency may improve with DHEA supplementation.
An association between chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and abnormalities of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis has been described, and other adrenal steroid abnormalities have been suggested. Dehydroepiandrostenedione (DHEA) and its sulphate (DHEA-S), apart from being a precursor of sex steroids, have other functions associated with memory, depression and sleep. It has been suggested that CFS may be associated with a state of relative DHEA(-S) deficiency. Therefore we investigated basal levels of DHEA(-S), the cortisol/DHEA molar ratio and the responsiveness of DHEA to stimulation by corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). Recent studies have also suggested that low dose hydrocortisone may be effective at reducing fatigue in CFS. We therefore also assessed these parameters prior to and following treatment with low dose oral hydrocortisone.
Basal levels of serum DHEA, DHEAS and cortisol were measured in 16 patients with CFS without depression and in 16 controls matched for age, gender, weight, body mass index and menstrual history. CRH tests (1 g/kg i.v.) were carried out on all subjects and DHEA measured at 0, +30 and +90 min. In the patient group, CRH tests were repeated on two further occasions following treatment with hydrocortisone (5 or 10 mg, p.o.) or placebo for 1 month each in a double-blind cross over study protocol.
Basal levels of DHEA were higher in the patient, compared to the control, group (14.1+/-2.2 vs. 9.0+/-0.90 ng/ml, P=0.04), while levels of DHEAS in patients (288.7+/-35.4 microg/dl) were not different from controls (293.7+/-53.8, P=NS). Higher DHEA levels were correlated with higher disability scores. Basal cortisol levels were higher in patients, and consequently the cortisol/DHEA molar ratio did not differ between patients and controls. Levels of DHEA (8.9+/-0.97 ng/ml, P=0.015) and DHEAS (233.4+/-41.6 microg/dl, P=0.03) were lower in patients following treatment with hydrocortisone. There was a rise in DHEA responsiveness to CRH in the patients after treatment but this did not attain significance (AUCc: 2.5+/-1.7 ng/ml h pre-treatment vs. 6.4+/-1.2 ng/ml h post-hydrocortisone, P=0.053). However, those patients who responded fully to hydrocortisone in terms of reduced fatigue scores did show a significantly increased DHEA responsiveness to CRH (AUCc: -1.4+/-2.5 ng/ml h at baseline, 5.0+/-1.2 ng/ml h after active treatment, P=0.029).
DHEA levels are raised in CFS and correlate with the degree of self-reported disability. Hydrocortisone therapy leads to a reduction in these levels towards normal, and an increased DHEA response to CRH, most marked in those who show a clinical response to this therapy."