Impact of Cortisol on Reduction in Muscle Strength and Mass: A Mendelian Randomization Study

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2022 Mar 24;107(4):e1477-e1487. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgab862.


Context: Prolonged exposure to pathological cortisol, as in Cushing's syndrome causes various age-related disorders, including sarcopenia. However, it is unclear whether mild cortisol excess, for example, accelerates sarcopenia due to aging or chronic stress.

Objective: We used Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis to assess whether cortisol was causally associated with muscle strength and mass.

Methods: Three single-nucleotide polymorphisms associated with plasma cortisol concentrations in the CORtisol NETwork consortium (n = 12 597) were used as instrumental variables. Summary statistics with traits of interest were obtained from relevant genome-wide association studies. For the primary analysis, we used the fixed-effects inverse-variance weighted analysis accounting for genetic correlations between variants.

Results: One SD increase in cortisol was associated with SD reduction in grip strength (estimate, -0.032; 95% CI -0.044 to -0.020; P = 3e-04), whole-body lean mass (estimate, -0.032; 95% CI, -0.046 to -0.017; P = 0.004), and appendicular lean mass (estimate, -0.031; 95% CI, -0.049 to -0.012; P = 0.001). The results were supported by the weighted-median analysis, with no evidence of pleiotropy in the MR-Egger analysis. The association of cortisol with grip strength and lean mass was observed in women but not in men. The association was attenuated after adjusting for fasting glucose in the multivariable MR analysis, which was the top mediator for the association in the MR Bayesian model averaging analysis.

Conclusion: This MR study provides evidence for the association of cortisol with reduced muscle strength and mass, suggesting the impact of cortisol on the development of sarcopenia.

Keywords: Mendelian randomization; cortisol; genome-wide association study; grip strength; lean mass; sarcopenia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cushing Syndrome*
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Sarcopenia*


  • Hydrocortisone