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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Dec;94(12):4710-6. doi: 10.1210/jc.2009-1046. Epub 2009 Oct 16.

Hypercortisolemia is associated with severity of bone loss and depression in hypothalamic amenorrhea and anorexia nervosa.

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  • 1Neuroendocrine Unit, Bulfinch 457B, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.



Anorexia nervosa (AN) and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) are associated with low bone density, anxiety, and depression. Women with AN and HA have elevated cortisol levels. Significant hypercortisolemia, as in Cushing's disease, causes bone loss. It is unknown whether anxiety and depression and/or cortisol dysregulation contribute to low bone density in AN or HA.


Our objective was to investigate whether hypercortisolemia is associated with bone loss and mood disturbance in women with HA and AN.


We conducted a cross-sectional study in a clinical research center.


We studied 52 women [21 healthy controls (HC), 13 normal-weight women with functional HA, and 18 amenorrheic women with AN].


Serum samples were measured every 20 min for 12 h overnight and pooled for average cortisol levels. Bone mineral density (BMD) was assessed by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) at anteroposterior and lateral spine and hip. Hamilton Rating Scales for Anxiety (HAM-A) and Depression (HAM-D) were administered.


BMD was lower in AN and HA than HC at all sites and lower in AN than HA at the spine. On the HAM-D and HAM-A, AN scored higher than HA, and HA scored higher than HC. Cortisol levels were highest in AN, intermediate in HA, and lowest in HC. HAM-A and HAM-D scores were associated with decreased BMD. Cortisol levels were positively associated with HAM-A and HAM-D scores and negatively associated with BMD.


Hypercortisolemia is a potential mediator of bone loss and mood disturbance in these disorders.

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