Differences between men and women as regards the effects of protein-energy malnutrition on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis

Nutrition. 1999 May;15(5):351-8. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(99)00051-9.


Although protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) affects 50% of hospitalized patients, its effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis have not been extensively investigated. To investigate the effects of PEM on the HPG axis in hospitalized patients, 62 inpatients ages 18-91 y (35 men and 27 women) had a nutritional and hormonal evaluation. Hormones were determined in blood samples obtained between 0700 and 1200 h. Patients were divided into two subgroups: those with body mass index (BMI) <18.5 kg/m2 (low body mass index [LBMI]; 16 men, 13 women) and those with BMI >20 kg/m2 (normal-high body mass index [NHBMI]; 19 men, 14 women). The nutritional parameters of LBMI patients were inferior to those of NHBMI patients. Total and free testosterone levels were subnormal, 31.4% and 17.2% respectively, in all men; free testosterone was subnormal in 31.25% of LBMI versus 5.3% of NHBMI male patients and total testosterone concentration was subnormal in 43.8% of LBMI versus 21.1% of NHBMI male patients. Luteinizing hormone (LH) level was higher in LBMI men than in NHBMI men, whereas the reverse was the case for women, for whom follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) also was lower in the LBMI group than the NHBMI group. The HPG axis hormones which best discriminated between the LBMI and NHBMI groups were free testosterone for men and LH and FSH for women, which were all lower in the LBMI than in the NHBMI group. LH was correlated with BMI and midupper arm muscle circumference (AMC) (women positively and men negatively) but not with triceps skin-fold thickness (TSF). Total testosterone level was positively correlated with AMC and free testosterone with TSF. Hypogonadism is common among hospitalized patients with PEM. Men with PEM have low testosterone levels with normal or high gonadotropin levels, which suggests impairment of Leydig cell function. Women with PEM suffer hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. AMC correlates positively with total serum testosterone concentration in men and with LH levels in women, suggesting that satisfactory function of the HPG axis requires a functional (protein) reserve as well as an energy (fat) reserve.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone / blood
  • Gonads / physiopathology*
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hypothalamus / physiopathology*
  • Luteinizing Hormone / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pituitary Gland / physiopathology*
  • Prolactin / blood
  • Protein-Energy Malnutrition / physiopathology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin / metabolism
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Thyroxine / blood


  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Testosterone
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone
  • Follicle Stimulating Hormone
  • Thyroxine
  • Hydrocortisone