Cortisol production in obesity

Metabolism. 1980 Oct;29(10):980-5. doi: 10.1016/0026-0495(80)90043-8.


Absolute cortisol production was estimated from the urinary excretion of tetrahydro metabolites of cortisol in 74 healthy women varying in weight from 12% below to 218% above desirable weight, and in 37 healthy men varying in weight from 3% below to 139% above desirable weight, and was measured by isotope dilution (after 14C tracers) in 26 of the women and 23 of the men. The relationship of both parameters to urinary creatinine excretion (as a measure of lean body mass) and to percent deviation from desirable weight (relative weight) was determined. Both absolute cortisol production and urinary creatinine excretion showed a significant positive linear correlation with relative weight in the men and women, but cortisol production/g urinary creatinine excretion (by isotope dilution or by tetrahydro metabolite excretion) was weight-invariant in both sexes. The geometric mean of cortisol production/g creatinine was 12.9 mg/g in men and 14.5 mg/g in women; the difference was not statistically significant. The geometric mean of tetrahydro metabolite excretion/g creatinine was 3.7 mg/g in men and 3.8 mg/g in women; the difference was not statistically significant. The average ratio of cortisol production to tetrahydro metabolite excretion was 3.5 in men and 3.8 in women, values not significantly different from one another and closely confirming our previously reported value of 3.6, based on the conversion of cortisol tracers to radioactive urinary tetrahydro metabolites. It is concluded that there is no functionally significant elevation of cortisol production in obese men or women: the increase in absolute production is solely a consequence of greater lean body mass, and the production/U lean body mass is weight-invariant. It appears desirable to make any comparisons of one group of patients with another in terms of cortisol production/g urinary creatinine in order to eliminate body size and obesity as confounding factors, so that disease-related differences may emerge clearly.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / urine*
  • Male
  • Obesity / urine*
  • Radioisotope Dilution Technique
  • Reference Values
  • Sex Factors


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Hydrocortisone