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Relative hypocortisolism is associated with obesity and the metabolic syndrome in recurrent affective disorders.

BACKGROUND: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the main causes of excess deaths in affective disorders. Affective disorders are associated with increased frequencies of CVD risk-factors such as obesity, dyslipidemia, and metabolic syndrome. Stress-induced chronic cortisol excess has been suggested to promote obesity and metabolic syndrome. Chronic stress with frequent or persisting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis (HPA-axis) hyperactivity may, over time, lead to a state of low HPA-axis activity, also denoted hypocortisolism. A low-dose weight-adjusted dexamethasone-suppression-test (DST) is considered to be a sensitive measure of hypocortisolism.

METHODS: 245 patients with recurrent depression or bipolar disorder and 258 controls participated in a low-dose DST and were also examined with regard to metabolic status.

RESULTS: Patients with hypocortisolism (low post-DST cortisol) compared with patients without hypocortisolism (normal or high post-DST cortisol) exhibited increased odds ratios (OR) for obesity (OR=4.0), overweight (OR=4.0), large waist (OR=2.7), high LDL (OR=4.2), low HDL (OR=2.4), high LDL/HDL ratio (OR=3.3), high TC/HDL ratio (OR=3.4) and metabolic syndrome (OR=2.0). A similar pattern but less pronounced was also found in the control sample.

LIMITATIONS: The cross sectional study design and absence of analyses addressing lifestyle factors.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that a substantial portion of the metabolic disorders and cardiovascular risk factors seen in recurrent affective disorders are found among individuals exhibiting hypocortisolism. This might indicate that long-term stress is a central contributor to metabolic abnormalities and CVD mortality in recurrent affective disorders.

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