Metabolomic profiling reveals extensive adrenal suppression due to inhaled corticosteroid therapy in asthma

Nat Med. 2022 Apr;28(4):814-822. doi: 10.1038/s41591-022-01714-5. Epub 2022 Mar 21.


The application of large-scale metabolomic profiling provides new opportunities for realizing the potential of omics-based precision medicine for asthma. By leveraging data from over 14,000 individuals in four distinct cohorts, this study identifies and independently replicates 17 steroid metabolites whose levels were significantly reduced in individuals with prevalent asthma. Although steroid levels were reduced among all asthma cases regardless of medication use, the largest reductions were associated with inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) treatment, as confirmed in a 4-year low-dose ICS clinical trial. Effects of ICS treatment on steroid levels were dose dependent; however, significant reductions also occurred with low-dose ICS treatment. Using information from electronic medical records, we found that cortisol levels were substantially reduced throughout the entire 24-hour daily period in patients with asthma who were treated with ICS compared to those who were untreated and to patients without asthma. Moreover, patients with asthma who were treated with ICS showed significant increases in fatigue and anemia as compared to those without ICS treatment. Adrenal suppression in patients with asthma treated with ICS might, therefore, represent a larger public health problem than previously recognized. Regular cortisol monitoring of patients with asthma treated with ICS is needed to provide the optimal balance between minimizing adverse effects of adrenal suppression while capitalizing on the established benefits of ICS treatment.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones* / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones* / adverse effects
  • Asthma* / drug therapy
  • Humans


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones