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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2005 Nov;63(5):530-6.

Adaptation of the hypothalamic-pituitary hormones during intensive endurance training.

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Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Germany.



Physical activity leads to changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary hormonal system. However, acute and long-term adaptations have not yet been precisely characterized. In this study, the changes of the hormonal system as a result of marathon training and running a marathon were examined. In particular, we focused on adaptations of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, regarding the activation or inactivation of cortisol to cortisone by the 11beta-hydroxysteroid-dehydrogenase system (11beta-HSD).


Patient measurements: 8 healthy women and 11 healthy men volunteered for this study. Blood samples, 24-h urine and a dexamethasone suppression test were analysed for metabolic and hormonal parameters at five different dates 12 weeks around a marathon.


Cortisol and ACTH values decreased significantly 2 days after the marathon, whereas the activity of the whole body 11beta-HSD-1 was up-regulated. An increased suppression of cortisol levels was observed in the dexamethasone suppression test after 6 weeks of reduced training levels. Ghrelin was elevated 2 days after the marathon. Only minor changes in the other hypothalamic-pituitary-hormonal axes could be observed. However, the free androgen index increased significantly after 6 weeks of reduced training.


The HPA system appeared to become chronically activated by continuous physical training and therefore less sensitive to the dexamethasone suppression test. The acute stress of the marathon led to a central exhaustion of the HPA system with a paracrine counteraction by the activation of the 11beta-HSD system. Changes in the other hypothalamic-pituitary hormonal axes were the result of long-term differences in training levels and were not altered by the marathon.

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