October 28, 2005

Weight Loss Lowers Hormone Levels in Obese Kids

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A condition involving abnormally high levels of androgens (steroid hormones) known in medical circles as "hyperandrogenemia" starts early in obese children, a study shows, possibly placing them at increased risk for the metabolic syndrome -- a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels that raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The study also shows that weight loss leads to decreasing androgen levels. Weight loss is the "therapy of choice" for obese children with elevated androgen levels, Dr. Thomas Reinehr who led the study told Reuters Health.

"Androgens," Reinehr explained, "are steroid hormones such as testosterone or androsterone, which control the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics in both males and females."

"Obesity is known to be associated with increased androgen production in adult females, while studies of obese adult males have linked obesity to low androgen production," Reinehr from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Datteln, Germany added. "There has been minimal study into the role of androgens in obese children, and it has, until now, remained unknown whether the (levels) of these hormones change after obese children lose weight," he also pointed out.

To investigate, Reinehr and colleagues compared androgen levels in 273 obese and 79 normal weight children of the same age and pubertal stage, and studied the effect of weight loss on these hormone levels. Weight loss was achieved via a 12-month intervention program that incorporated exercise, behavior and nutrition therapy consisting of a high-carbohydrate low-fat diet.

The study revealed that obese children, regardless of their gender or pubertal stage, show significantly higher testosterone and DHEAS levels as compared to children who are lean or normal weight.

In girls, and also in boys who were prepubertal, there was a positive link between body mass index and androgen levels. However, obese pubertal boys did not demonstrate increased androgen levels in this study.

"Overall, weight loss led to a decrease in testosterone among obese prepubertal children and pubertal girls," Reinehr said. Therefore, "although obesity tends to be associated with an increase in androgens, this increase is reversible pending weight loss," he concluded.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism October 2005.