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  1. If you’ve got your finger on the pulse of health trends, it’s likely you’ve been hearing the current buzzwords “cortisol creates belly fat” and “cortisol causes muscle wasting and fat storage.” These are the type of catch phrases that gain momentum every few years. And although some of the fads and trends showing up seasonally in fitness are myths, this caution about chronically elevated cortisol is true. Cortisol is also deeply connected with the dangers of chronic inflammation, which I described in another article, “Inflammation Creates Diseases.” Like many hormones, cortisol has an effect on a wide variety of functions in the body. Although it’s getting particularly demonized lately, cortisol serves some very important and positive functions in the body. It’s an essential component of the flight or flight response, so it gives us energy, focus, strength, motivation and courage. But, like with sugar or caffeine, it comes with a crash that feels like an emotional, psychological and physical drain. Cortisol is important for survival, but we didn’t evolve to have high levels of it all the time. According to hormone.org, cortisol isn’t only a stress hormone: “Because most bodily cells have cortisol receptors, it affects many different functions in the body. Cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure. In women, cortisol also supports the developing fetus during pregnancy. All of these functions make cortisol a crucial hormone to protect overall health and well-being.” (hormone.org/hormones-and-health/hormones/cortisol) There are many symptoms of chronically elevated cortisol levels. With that said, the way a spike of cortisol gives you a jolt of energy is by raising blood sugar. It does this by way of gluconeogenesis. This literally means “creating new sugar,” and it happens by way of breaking protein down into amino acids that are then turned into sugar by the liver. What is a large source of protein in the body? Yep, muscles. This is what is meant by “cortisol causes muscle loss.” This in turn contributes to muscle weakness. Whereas normal levels of cortisol help to regulate blood sugar levels by breaking down only a little muscle (which can be replaced with exercise), excessive levels cause muscle wasting. Why does cortisol cause fat gain? Remember those cortisol receptors most cells have? Fat cells have four times as many, so they are particularly responsive to cortisol. Okay, remember all that glucose the cortisol surge dumped into your blood for energy? Well, that also came with an insulin response to get your blood sugar levels back down, and insulin causes energy storage. And where do you store the energy? Yep, in those hypersensitive fat cells that cortisol just turned on. And what happens when you have too much insulin over time? Yep, diabetes. Also, another reason stress can cause emotional and/or binge eating is because cortisol also fires up your sense of purpose, as well as your appetite. So now stress has made you feel motivated…to eat. Emotionally and psychologically, chronically high cortisol can exacerbate depression, anxiety, irritability and lack of emotional control. Cortisol triggers a release of tryptophan oxygenase. This enzyme breaks down tryptophan. Tryptophan is required for creating serotonin. Serotonin gives us the ability to feel happiness, and it also affects appetite, sleep and sexual desire. Since extended exposure to high levels of cortisol inhibits the production of serotonin, all the symptoms of low serotonin become problematic (decreased appetite, insomnia, impotence, etc.). In short, prolonged stress causes depression. Cortisol also plays a role in the circulatory system. It manipulates blood pressure by acting as a diuretic. Excess cortisol causes an electrolyte imbalance, whereby sodium is retained, but potassium is excreted. Let me take you back to your high school biology days: Muscles fire because of the sodium potassium pump. The sodium potassium pump also effects the firing of nerves, including those impulses that cause your heart to beat and your kidneys to take in water for filtration. That sodium potassium pump is important throughout the entire body, across many of its biological functions. Because cortisol increases the concentration of sodium in your body, it has a direct impact on your blood pressure. Remember why excess salt can cause high blood pressure? Because it contains sodium. For all these reasons and more, chronically elevated cortisol also causes muscle weakness (ironic, since short bursts of it temporarily increase strength). Cortisol has other effects on minerals. According to the Hindawi Journal of Sports Medicine, “Cortisol triggers bone mineral resorption (removal) in order to free amino acids for use as an energy source through gluconeogenesis. Cortisol indirectly acts on bone by blocking calcium absorption, which decreases bone cell growth.” As you can see, excess cortisol causes osteoporosis. It also exacerbates other bone mineral density diseases, which means cortisol can leave you literally brittle with stress. Practically anything can become a stressor in the right conditions, and fight or flight is our only biological response to stress. Some triggers of stress include conflict, worry, alcohol and drug consumption, processed foods, excess exercise (especially prolonged and repeated sessions of low-level steady-state cardio training), sleep deprivation, thirst and hunger. As much as possible, protect yourself from stress with rest, relaxation, meditation, play time and healthy foods full of antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and thus the risks for practically all diseases. Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com. Adapted from https://goqnotes.com/61597/stress-cortisol-and-weight-gain/
  2. Strongbridge Biopharma released additional positive results from a Phase 3 trial evaluating whether the company’s investigational therapy Recorlev (levoketoconazole) is safe and effective for people with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. The latest results were presented in the scientific poster “Safety and Efficacy of Levoketoconazole in Cushing Syndrome: Initial Results From the Phase 3 SONICS Study,\” at the 18th Annual Congress of the European NeuroEndocrine Association (ENEA), which took place in Wrocław, Poland, last month. The SONICS study (NCT01838551) was a multi-center, open-label Phase 3 trial evaluating Recorlev’s safety and effectiveness in 94 patients with endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. The trial consisted of three parts: a dose-escalation phase to determine the appropriate Recorlev dose that achieved normalization of cortisol levels; a maintenance phase in which patients received the established dose for six months; and a final extended phase, in which patients were treated with Recorlev for an additional six months, with the possibility of dose adjustments. Its primary goal was a reduction in the levels of cortisol in the patients’ urine after six months of maintenance treatment, without any dose increase during that period. Among secondary goals was a reduction in the characteristically high risk of cardiovascular disease in these people, through the assessment of multiple cardiovascular risk markers. Strongbridge announced top-line results of the SONICS study in August, which showed that the trial had reached its primary and secondary goals. It concluded last month. After six months of maintenance therapy, Recorlev successfully lowered to normal the levels of cortisol in 30% of patients without a dose increase. It also led to statistically and clinically significant reductions in cardiovascular risk biomarkers, including blood sugar, cholesterol levels, body weight, and body mass index. Maria Fleseriu, MD, director of the Oregon Health Sciences University Northwest Pituitary Center, presented additional and detailed results of SONICS at the congress. Additional analyses showed that among the 77 patients who completed the dose-escalation phase and entered the study’s maintenance phase, 81% had their cortisol levels normalized. At the end of the six months of maintenance treatment, 29 (53%) of the 55 patients who had their cortisol levels assessed at the beginning of the study and at the end of the maintenance phase had achieved normalization of cortisol levels, regardless of dose increase. Among all patients who completed maintenance treatment (including patients with some missing data) and regardless of dose increase, 38% had achieved normalization of cortisol levels and 48% recorded a 50% or more decrease or normalization. The results also highlighted that Recorlev substantially reduced patients’ cortisol levels regardless of their levels at the study’s beginning (which were on average about five-fold higher than the upper limit of normal). In those patients with the highest levels of cortisol in their urine, Recorlev led to a median reduction of more than 80%. As previously reported, Recorlev was found to be generally well-tolerated, with no new safety concerns, and only 12 participants (12.8%) stopped treatment due to adverse events. Ten patients had three- or five-fold increased levels of alanine aminotransferase — a liver enzyme used to assess liver damage — which were fully resolved without further complications. These liver-related adverse events “were all noted in the first 60 days, thus suggesting a timeline interval for monitoring,” Fleseriu said in a press release. “We continue to be encouraged by the positive efficacy results of SONICS and the overall benefit-to-risk profile of Recorlev and look forward to sharing additional planned analyses from the study in the near future,” said Fredric Cohen, Strongbridge’s chief medical officer. From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/11/01/new-data-from-phase-3-trial-supports-recorlev-ability-to-safely-treat-cushings-syndrome/
  3. Minimally invasive diagnostic methods and transnasal surgery may lead to remission in nearly all children with Cushing’s disease, while avoiding more aggressive approaches such as radiation or removal of the adrenal glands, a study shows. The study, “A personal series of 100 children operated for Cushing’s disease (CD): optimizing minimally invasive diagnosis and transnasal surgery to achieve nearly 100% remission including reoperations,” was published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism. Normally, the pituitary produces adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. When a patient has a pituitary tumor, that indirectly leads to high levels of cortisol, leading to development of Cushing’s disease (CD). In transnasal surgery (TNS), a surgeon goes through the nose using an endoscope to remove a pituitary tumor. The approach is the first-choice treatment for children with Cushing’s disease due to ACTH-secreting adenomas — or tumors — in the pituitary gland. Micro-adenomas, defined as less than 4 mm, are more common in children and need surgical expertise for removal. It is necessary to determine the exact location of the tumor before conducting the surgery. Additionally, many surgeons perform radiotherapy or bilateral adrenalectomy (removal of both adrenal glands) after the surgery. However, these options are not ideal as they can be detrimental to children who need to re-establish normal growth and development patterns. Dieter K. Lüdecke, a surgeon from Germany’s University of Hamburg, has been able to achieve nearly 100% remission while minimizing the need for pituitary radiation or bilateral adrenalectomy. In this study, researchers looked at how these high remission rates can be achieved while minimizing radiotherapy or bilateral adrenalectomy. Researchers analyzed 100 patients with pediatric CD who had been referred to Lüdecke for surgery from 1980-2009. Data was published in two separate series — series 1, which covers patients from 1980-1995, and series 2, which covers 1996-2009. All the surgeries employed direct TNS. Diagnostic methods for CD have improved significantly over the past 30 years. Advanced endocrine diagnostic investigations, such as testing for levels of salivary cortisol in the late evening and cortisol-releasing hormone tests, have made a diagnosis of CD less invasive. This is particularly important for excluding children with obesity alone from children with obesity and CD. Methods to determine the precise location of micro-adenomas have also improved. The initial methodology to localize tumors was known as inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS), an invasive procedure in which ACTH levels are sampled from the veins that drain the pituitary gland. In series 1, IPSS was performed in 24% of patients, among which 46% were found to have the wrong tumor location. Therefore, IPSS was deemed invasive, risky, and unreliable for this purpose. All adenomas were removed with extensive pituitary exploration. Two patients in series 1 underwent early repeat surgery; all were successful. Lüdecke introduced intraoperative cavernous sinus sampling (CSS), an improved way to predict location of adenomas. This was found to be very helpful in highly select cases and could also be done preoperatively for very small adenomas. In series 2, CSS was used in only 15% of patients thanks to improved MRI and endocrinology tests. All patients who underwent CSS had correct localization of their tumors, indicating its superiority over IPSS. In series 2, three patients underwent repeat TNS, which was successful. In these recurrences, TNS minimized the need for irradiation. The side effects of TNS were minimal. Recurrence rate in series 1 was 16% and 11% in series 2. While Lüdecke’s patients achieved a remission rate of 98%, other studies show cure rates of 45-69%. Only 4% of patients in these two series received radiation therapy. “Minimally invasive unilateral, microsurgical TNS is important functionally for both the nose and pituitary,” the researchers concluded. “Including early re-operations, a 98% remission rate could be achieved and the high risk of pituitary function loss with radiotherapy could be avoided.” From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/09/04/minimally-invasive-methods-yield-high-remission-in-cushings-disease-children/
  4. A plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone suppression test performed shortly after surgical adenomectomy may accurately predict both short- and long-term remission of Cushing’s disease, according to research published in Pituitary. “Cushing’s disease is caused by hypersecretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by a pituitary adenoma, resulting in hypercortisolism,” Erik Uvelius, MD, of the department of clinical sciences, Skåne University Hospital, Lund University, Sweden, and colleagues wrote in the study background. “Surgical adenomectomy is the first line of treatment. Postoperative remission is reported in 43% to 95% of cases depending on factors such as adenoma size, finding of pituitary adenoma on preoperative MRI and surgeons’ experience. However, there is no consensus on what laboratory assays and biochemical thresholds should be used in determining or predicting remission over time.” In the study, the researchers retrospectively gathered data from medical records of 28 patients who presented with Cushing’s disease to Skåne University Hospital between November 1998 and December 2011, undergoing 45 transsphenoidal adenomectomies. On postoperative days 2 and 3, oral betamethasone was administered (1 mg at 8 a.m., 0.5 mg at 2 p.m., and 0.5 mg at 8 p.m.). Researchers assessed plasma cortisol and plasma ACTH before betamethasone administration and again at 24 and 48 hours, and measured 24-urinary free cortisol on postoperative day 3. At 3 months postoperatively and then annually, plasma concentrations of morning cortisol and ACTH along with urinary-free cortisol and/or a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test were evaluated at the endocrinologists’ discretion. The researchers defined remission as lessening of clinical signs and symptoms of hypercortisolism, as well as laboratory confirmation through the various tests. The researchers used Youden’s index to establish the cutoff with the highest sensitivity and specificity in predicting remission over the short term (3 months) and long term (5 years or more). Clinical accuracy of the different tests was illustrated through the area under curve. The study population consisted of mainly women (71%), with a median age of 49.5 years. No significant disparities were seen in age, sex or surgical technique between patients who underwent a primary procedure and those who underwent reoperation. Two of the patients were diagnosed with pituitary carcinoma and 11 had a macroadenoma. ACTH positivity was identified in all adenomas and pathologists confirmed two cases of ACTH-producing carcinomas. Of the 28 patients, 12 (43%) demonstrated long-term remission at last follow-up. Three patients were not deemed in remission after primary surgery but were not considered eligible for additional surgical intervention, whereas 13 patients underwent 17 reoperations to address remaining disease or recurrence. Four patients demonstrated long-term remission after a second or third procedure, equaling 16 patients (57%) achieving long-term remission, according to the researchers. The researchers found that both short- and long-term remission were most effectively predicted through plasma cortisol after 24 and 48 hours with betamethasone. A short-term remission cutoff of 107 nmol/L was predicted with a sensitivity of 0.85, specificity of 0.94 and a positive predictive value of 0.96 and AUC of 0.92 (95% CI, 0.85-1). A long-term remission cutoff of 49 nmol/L was predicted with a sensitivity of 0.94, specificity of 0.93, positive predictive value of 0.88 and AUC of 0.98 (95% CI, 0.95-1). This cutoff was close to the suppression cutoff for the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, 50 nmol/L. The cutoff of 25 nmol/L showed that the use of such a strict suppression cutoff would cause a low level of true positives and a higher occurrence of false negatives, according to the researchers. “A 48 h 2 mg/day betamethasone suppression test day 2 and 3 after transsphenoidal surgery of Cushing’s disease could safely predict short- and long-term remission with high accuracy,” the researchers wrote. “Plasma cortisol after 24 hours of suppression showed the best accuracy in predicting 5 years’ remission. Until consensus on remission criteria, it is still the endocrinologists’ combined assessment that defines remission.” – by Jennifer Byrne Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures. From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/neuroendocrinology/news/in-the-journals/%7B0fdfb7b0-e418-4b53-b59d-1ffa3f7b8cd3%7D/acth-test-after-adenomectomy-may-accurately-predict-cushings-disease-remission
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