Research Article| Volume 27, ISSUE 9, P1021-1037, May 01, 1990

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Disturbances in the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal and other neuroendocrine axes in bulimia

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      Disturbances in the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and other endocrine axes were assessed in 24 women with bulimia and healthy controls. Overnight blood samples for measuring nocturnal plasma cortisol, prolactin (PRL), growth hormone (GH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) were obtained at 30-min intervals. A 1.5 mg dexamethasone suppression test (DST) and a TRH-test were performed. Patients were monitored closely while their nutritional intake was recorded over 21 days. Compared with healthy controls, nocturnal cortisol plasma levels were not elevated in the bulimics. There was a trend toward insufficient cortisol suppression in the DST in patients with bulimia which was most pronounced in patients with signs of restricted caloric intake. Plasma dexamethasone levels were significantly reduced in bulimics compared with healthy controls. There was a trend for blunted thyrothropin stimulating hormone (TSH) responses to thyrotropin in releasing hormone (TRH) in bulimia. The prolactin response to TRH was significantly reduced in bulimics with a history of anorexia nervosa. Plasma LH and plasma FSH were significantly reduced in bulimics with signs of reduced caloric intake [low T3, high levels of beta-hydroxy-butyric acid (BHBA), reduced daily caloric intake, high number of fasting days] as compared with healthy controls. Bulimics with high BHBA levels had significantly reduced nocturnal prolactin plasma levels. Results show that multiple neuroendocrine disturbances exist in bulimia in a milder form than in anorexia nervosa. Evidence for the impact of caloric intake on endocrine functions is presented. Endocrine dysfunctions in our bulimic sample did not show a positive association with the presence of depressive symptoms.
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