European journal of endocrinology. 2020;182(4):447-457
Plain language summary
Cushing syndrome is caused by an overexposure to cortisol and associated with abdominal adiposity, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and therefore bears similarities with metabolic syndrome and obesity. Whilst circulating cortisol levels are normal or slightly decreased in obese individuals, they tend to be increased in T2DM. The aim of this study was to investigate associations between obesity and T2DM measures and glucocorticoid metabolism, and any possible effects of a palaeolithic diet (PD) with or without exercise. In this single-blind study (investigators examining patients were blind to intervention), 28 patients with overweight or obesity and T2DM were randomised to either a PD alone or combined with a structured resistance and aerobic exercise programme for 12 weeks. The PD was based on a high intake of vegetables, fruit, lean meat, nuts, egg, fish and seafood, whilst grains, sugar, salt, dairy products and refined fats were reduced. Body mass index, waist circumference, glycaemic control, liver and systemic insulin sensitivity improved in both groups with no statistically significant difference between groups. There was no association between insulin sensitivity and indices of tissue specific glucocorticoid metabolism. PD with and without exercise was associated with increased conversion of the inactive cortisone to the active cortisol through increased activity of the conversion enzyme in the liver, but not with increased urinary excretion of glucocorticoid metabolites. The authors concluded that the results suggests that dysregulation of liver glucocorticoid metabolism in these patients is a consequence rather than a cause of metabolic dysfunction.