To perform a systematic review of the literature for scientific evidence of possible differences in cortisol concentrations in adolescents with eating disorders.
Electronic searches were conducting in the PubMed, Scientific Electronic Library Online, Virtual Health Library, and Science Direct databases for articles published between 2007 and 2017 using the keywords, cortisol, hydrocortisone; eating disorders, bulimia, bulimia nervosa, anorexia, anorexia nervosa; adolescence, adolescent, adolescents.
A total of 192 articles were found. After the analysis of the eligibility criteria using the PRISMA method, 19 articles were selected for the present review. Most studies were conducted in Europe. Adolescents diagnosed with anorexia nervosa were evaluated in all studies, except one, when other eating disorders were investigated. Blood was the means used for the determination of cortisol. In ten studies, cortisol levels were higher in the group with anorexia than the control group and a reduction in cortisol levels occurred in the adolescents after being submitted to nutritional recovery.
Patients with eating disorders may have several clinical consequences, such as changes in body fat distribution, changes in bone mineral density, worsening of neurocognitive ability, and endocrine changes (e.g., hypercortisolemia), which in turn can lead to hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, hypertension, and increased risk of infections. The findings demonstrate that adolescents with eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa, have increased cortisol levels, which are reduced after the treatment period. Further studies on differences in cortisol concentrations in adolescents with other eating disorders are needed, using different methods.