The study, “Hypercortisolism and altered glucose homeostasis in obese patients in the pre-bariatric surgery assessment,” was published in the journal Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews.
A series of metabolic alterations are associated with Cushing’s, including central or abdominal obesity, changes in blood sugar metabolism, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia, which is excessive levels of fatty molecules circulating in the bloodstream.
The similarities between Cushing’s and metabolic syndrome led a team of Italian scientists to question whether screening for Cushing syndrome in patients with obesity should be performed “with the specific aim to exclude the presence of underlying hypercortisolism.”
Moreover, in patients with obesity or metabolic syndrome, excessive activity of the hormonal signaling cascade — leading to the production of cortisol — could be linked to changes in blood sugar metabolism, such as insulin resistance. Of note, insulin resistance is a condition in which cells become insensitive to the hormone insulin, which may lead to prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
To investigate if hypercortisolism could be associated with alterations in blood sugar metabolism and other features of metabolic syndrome in obese patients, the team reviewed the medical records of a group of 884 obese patients who had been referred for weight-loss surgery.
All of the patients included in the analyses were being followed at the Policlinico di Monza, a tertiary care center for obesity, in Italy, between January 2013 and January 2020.
Among the obese patients included in the analyses, 129 (14.6%) had excessive levels of cortisol in their urine, while the remaining 755 (85.4%) were within the normal range.
In nine patients, dexamethasone failed to lower the levels of cortisol in the blood to a normal range. That confirmed the presence of hypercortisolism in 7% of the patients who had high levels of cortisol in the urine, and in 1% of those included in the analyses.
This risk association continued to be found, even after researchers normalized their data to take into account patients’ age, sex, and body mass index.
In contrast, the researchers failed to identify a link between other features of metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure and dyslipidemia, and excessively high levels of cortisol in the urine.
Importantly, they also found that individuals who did not have either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, but who already had early signs of insulin resistance, were 2.84-times more likely to have high levels of cortisol in the urine.
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