OBJECTIVE: Muscular exercise induces hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activation and when regularly repeated, as in endurance training, leads to HPA axis adaptation. To assess whether non-professional endurance-trained (ET) men with a substantial training load and no clinical or biological features of HPA axis overactivity can present subtle alterations of HPA axis sensitivity to glucocorticoid negative feedback, nine ET men were subjected to HPA axis testing using the dexamethasone-corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) test. DESIGN: Nine endurance-trained men and eight healthy age-matched sedentary men were studied. Morning plasma cortisol and 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) were determined and a low dose dexamethasone suppression test (LDDST) was performed followed by CRH stimulation (dexamethasone-CRH test). RESULTS: After a day without physical exercise, at 0800 h, plasma ACTH and cortisol concentrations, and the 24 h UFC and UFC/urinary creatinine (UC) ratio were similar in ET and sedentary men. By contrast, clear differences between the groups were seen in cortisol and ACTH responses to the dexamethasone-CRH test. In eight ET subjects, after LDDST, basal ACTH and cortisol levels were similar to those of sedentary men, whereas one ET subject displayed a poor suppression of cortisol level (131 nmol/l). After injection of CRH, however, three of nine ET men's cortisol levels were not suppressed by dexamethasone but instead displayed significant CRH-induced increase (peak cortisol: 88, 125 and 362 nmol/l). No sedentary subject exhibited any increase in cortisol levels. CONCLUSION: Three of nine ET men with a mean maximum rate of O2 uptake (VO2, max) of 61 ml/kg per min, running 50-70 km per week, were resistant to glucocorticoid suppression during the combined dexamethasone-CRH test.
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