The adrenal gland synthesizes steroid hormones from the adrenal cortex and catecholamines from the adrenal medulla. Both cortisol and adrenal androgens can have powerful effects on bone. The overproduction of cortisol in Cushing's disease leads to a dramatic reduction in bone density and an increase risk of fracture. Overproduction of adrenal androgens in congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) leads to marked changes in bone growth and development with early growth acceleration but ultimately a significant reduction in final adult height. The role of more physiological levels of glucocorticoids and androgens on bone metabolism is less clear. Cortisol levels measured in elderly individuals show a weak correlation with measures of bone density and change in bone density over time with a high cortisol level associated with lower bone density and more rapid bone loss. Cortisol levels and the dynamics of cortisol secretion change with age which could also explain some age related changes in bone physiology. It is also now clear that adrenal steroids can be metabolized within bone tissue itself. Local synthesis of cortisol within bone from its inactive precursor cortisone has been demonstrated and the amount of cortisol produced within osteoblasts appears to increase with age. With regard to adrenal androgens there is a dramatic reduction in levels with aging and several studies have examined the impact that restoration of these levels back to those seen in younger individuals has on bone health. Most of these studies show small positive effects in women, not men, but the skeletal sites where benefits are seen varies from study to study.
Copyright © 2010. Published by Elsevier Inc.