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Tweaking Hormones Might Ease Chronic Stress

New method could help treat depression, other disorders, researchers say

TUESDAY, Jan. 27 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. and Canadian scientists say they've devised a potential new method of promoting recovery from chronic stress disorders by utilizing the natural dynamics of the body's "fight or flight" response.

The approach focuses on the hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal (HPA) axis, one of the body's major control systems. The HPA axis uses hormone feedback regulatory loops to help maintain body homeostasis (balance of systems).

A team led by Amos Ben-Zvi, of the University of Alberta, Edmonton, say that when the HPA axis is pushed far from its natural homeostatic rest point, it may be unable to fully recover. When that happens, HPA axis dysfunction may become permanent, according to background information in the study.

HPA axis dysfunction has been linked to disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers created a short-term intervention designed to help restore normal HPA axis. This method involves temporarily reducing the availability of cortisol, a hormone involved in immune function. Reduced cortisol levels prompt the HPA axis to overcompensate and re-set itself into normal regulation.

This new model, which needs to be tested in clinical tests, was described in an article published Jan. 23 in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about post-traumatic stress disorder.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Public Library of Science, news release, Jan. 22, 2009

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