Metabolic and Endocrine System Networks


What are the most effective strategies to optimise health and performance? There are ever more emerging possibilities, permutations and combinations to chose from.

The simple answer is that the most effective option will depend on your starting point and what you are trying to achieve. In all cases exercise and activity levels are the fundamental basis for health and performance. Regarding nutritional strategies to support effective exercise adaptations, no single component of your dietary intake can be considered in isolation. After all, the metabolic pathways and Endocrine axes in your body work as an interactive network, with an important temporal dimension.

Emerging evidence implicates resistance to the anabolic pancreatic hormone, insulin, as the underlying pathological process in the development of metabolic syndrome. What type of diet might drive or conversely counter this process involving metabolism and the Endocrine system? The standard approach, of calorie restriction and aggressive pharmacological treatment of raised lipids, does not produce the anticipated reduction in cardiovascular mortality. Rather the synergistic effect of a diet high in both fat and carbohydrate induces hypothalamic inflammation and dysfunction in the control system of energy metabolism. The hypothalamus is the neuroendocrine gatekeeper providing the crucial link between internal and external stimuli and homeostasis of the internal milieu through integrated Endocrine responses. Intriguingly there is as an inflammatory component to the pathogenesis of cardiovascular disease.

The interaction between metabolic, Endocrine and inflammatory networks is seen in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The clinical diagnosis of PCOS relies on two of three diagnostic criteria (menstrual disturbance, hyperandrogenism, ovarian morphology). However, the underlying metabolic disruption for all phenotypes of the condition, from overweight to slim, is insulin resistance. The link between adverse body composition, metabolic and Endocrine dysfunction has recently been described. Adipokines, a class of cytokine, including adiponectin and resistin are produced by adipose tissue and exert an effect on metabolism, including insulin sensitivity and inflammation. Changes in plasma concentrations and/or expression of adipokines are seen in metabolic dysfunction and potentially have direct and indirect effects on the hypothalmic-pituitary-gonadal axis in PCOS.

Further evidence of the crucial interaction between metabolic and Endocrine systems and health was found in a longitudinal study of children, quantifying heart rate variability and the energy and inflammatory related biomarkers leptin (atherogenic) and adiponectin (anti-atherogenic) as potential predictive markers in cardiovascular screening/prevention.

Exogenous hormones impact not only the endogenous Endocrine system, but have metabolic effects. The intended purpose of the combined oral contraceptive pill (OCP) is to suppress ovulation. Another effect on the Endocrine system is to increase production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds free testosterone. This has a therapeutic effect in the treatment of PCOS to lower elevated testosterone, however this may not be such a desirable effect in female athletes, where higher range testosterone levels as associated with performance advantages in certain power events. In the case of female athletes with relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S), use of the OCP masks underlying hypothalamic amenorrhoea and is not effective in bone health protection. Further areas where Endocrine manipulation impacts metabolism are an increase in oxidative stress with OCP use and alterations in nutritional requirements due to alteration of absorption of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B complex and magnesium, which are vital for enzymic processes involved in energy production. Yet an elevation of ferritin as an acute phase reactant is seen. These interactions of Endocrine and metabolic networks are particularly important considerations for the female athlete.

There is no single elixir for health and performance.  We are individuals with subtle differences in our genetic and epigenetic make up, including the diversity of our microbiome. Furthermore, the Endocrine and metabolic milieu changes during our lifespan. Personalised health and performance strategies must take account of the complex, intricate interactions between the Endocrine and metabolic networks.

For further discussion on Health, Hormones and Human Performance, come to the BASEM annual conference


One road to Rome: Metabolic Syndrome, Athletes, Exercise Dr N.Keay

Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training Dr N. Keay

Dietary sugars, not lipids, drive hypothalamic inflammation Molecular Metabolism June 2017

Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Adiponectin and resistin: potential metabolic signals affecting hypothalamo-pituitary gonadal axis in females and males of different species Reproduction: Journal for the Society of Reproduction and Fertility 2017

Longitudinal Associations of Leptin and Adiponectin with Heart Rate Variability in Children Front. Physiol 2017

AKR1C3-mediated adipose androgen generation drives lipotoxicity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2017

Hormones and Sports Performance Dr N. Keay

Mechanisms for optimal health…for all athletes! Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Oxidative Stress in Female Athletes Using Combined Oral Contraceptives Sports Medicine – Open

Oral contraceptives and changes in nutritional requirements European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences

Inflammation: Why and How Much? Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017



Endocrine system: balance and interplay in response to exercise training

The process of homeostasis maintains a steady internal milieu. So how is it possible for adaptations to occur? What are the internal mechanisms that determine a good outcome versus a negative one?

Changes in the external environment, such as exercise training, challenge homeostasis, producing spatial and temporal responses in the internal environment. These cause interactions between muscle, bone and gut, modulated by the Endocrine system. The degree and nature of these responses dictate whether a positive adaptation occurs. An excessive response, or a response not in tune with the networks of the Endocrine system, can hinder adaptation or produce a maladaptive response. The balance and interplay of internal responses are crucial in determining the outcome to exercise training in the individual.


Local responses in exercising tissues

Exercising tissues release exerkines (metabolites, nucleic acids, peptides) which are packaged in exosomes and microvesicles. The content of these vesicle packages increases with intensity of endurance exercise in a dose-dependent manner. These exerkines have autocrine and paracrine effects, which modulate systemic adaptations to endurance exercise in the tissues themselves and those in the vicinity.

The range of these molecular responses from exercising tissues has been identified applying multi-omics (epigenomic, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses). Furthermore variance in trainability has been shown to be correlated with the integrated responses of tissue molecular signalling pathways to endurance exercise.

In a similar manner, the degree of inflammatory response and production of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) to exercise mediate favourable adaptations. Inter-individual variations in redox status has been shown to determine the ability to adapt to exercise training. However, unlimited increase in response does not necessarily produce a better outcome. An over response to exercise in these signalling pathways, hinders adaptation.

Exercise promotes bone adaptation in terms of bone material, structure and muscle action. Paracrine crosstalk occurs between muscle and bone. Muscle myokines and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1) favour bone formation, whilst inflammatory molecules, such as interleukin 6 (Il-6) released during muscle contractions, favour bone reabsorption. The balance between these opposing processes determines whether bone remodelling is effective, or whether bone stress reactions occur over a pathological continuum. These responses and adaptations occur on the background of lifespan Endocrine environment, which impacts the outcome.

Gut microbiota

The gut microbiota support the regulation of inflammation at the local and systemic level. Furthermore the communication between the gut microbiota and mitochondria has been described as an important interaction in facilitating adaptive responses to exercise. Mitochondria are organelles crucial for production of ATP, as well as RONS. The gut microbiota are involved in mitochondrial biogenesis by regulating key mitochondrial transcriptional factors and enzymes . Furthermore, the metabolites of the gut microbiota such as short chain fatty acids, modulate the inflammatory effects of mitochondrial oxidative stress. Conversely genetic variants in the mitochondrial genome could impact mitochondrial function and thus the gut microbiota in terms of composition and activity.

The gut microbiota have a role in regulating intestinal permeability. Leaky gut is where epithelial integrity is lost at the tight junctions between cells in the gut lining. Leaky gut can occur in gut dysbiosis and also following endurance exercise where re-perfusion injury produces acute hyper-permeability. In these instances, increased gut permeability augments the antigen load and causes increased systemic inflammation and potentially can trigger autoimmune disease. This demonstrates that an excessive inflammatory response to exercise can hinder positive adaptation

Metabolic adaptations

Metabolic flexibility, the ability to respond and adapt to changes in metabolic demand, is enhanced with exercise training through these autocrine, paracrine and Endocrine mechanisms. Metabolic flexibility supports energy availability and fuel selection during exercise. Exercise mimetics, such as artificial metabolic modulators, have been reported to up-regulate gene expression to shift metabolism to fat oxidation in exercising muscle. This would potentially extend the limit of endurance exercise. However this “short cut” to adaptation favouring improved sport performance is illegal, with such molecular ligands on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.

Hierarchy of control

There is a hierarchy of control in modulating multi-system adaptations to exercise. The Endocrine system is key. Exercise per se produces an Endocrine response, for example exercise is a key stimulus for growth hormone release via the hypothalamus, the neuroendocrine gatekeeper. Growth hormone supports the anabolic response to exercise. In addition, the Endocrine milieu during the lifespan has an impact on response and adaptations to exercise. Any disruption in the Endocrine system hinders adaptive changes. Endocrine dysfunction may occur as a result of non-integrated periodisation of exercise/nutrition and recovery as seen in relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S). Dysfunction can also occur due to an Endocrine pathology.


Changes in external stimuli, such as exercise and nutrition, produce internal responses on autocrine, paracrine and Endocrine levels. These molecular signalling pathways drive adaptive changes through integrated, network effects. However any imbalances in these interactive responses can hinder desired adaptive changes and even result in negative maladaptive outcomes to exercise training.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance


Keay N, Logobardi S, Ehrnborg C, Cittadini A, Rosen T, Healy ML, Dall R, Bassett E, Pentecost C, Powrie J, Boroujerdi M, Jorgensen JOL, Sacca L. Growth hormone (GH) effects on bone and collagen turnover in healthy adults and its potential as a marker of GH abuse in sport: a double blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 85 (4) 1505-1512. 2000.

Sport Endocrinology presentation London 7/7/2017

Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Balance of recovery and adaptation for sports performance Dr N.Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Inflammation: Why and How Much? Dr N.Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Clusters of Athletes – A follow on from RED-S blog series to put forward impact of RED-S on athlete underperformance  Dr N.Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms Dr N.Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

The potential of endurance exercise-derived exosomes to treat metabolic diseases Nature Reviews Endocrinology

Exosomes as Mediators of the Systemic Adaptations to Endurance Exercise Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine

Genomic and transcriptomic predictors of response levels to endurance exercise training
Journal of Physiology

Adaptations to endurance training depend on exercise-induced oxidative stress: exploiting redox inter-individual variability Acta Physiologica

Mechanical basis of bone strength: influence of bone material, bone structure and muscle action Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions

The Crosstalk between the Gut Microbiota and Mitochondria during Exercise Frontiers in Physiology

Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases Frontiers in Immunology

Metabolic Flexibility in Health and Disease Cell Metabolism

Hormones and Sports Performance

PPARδ Promotes Running Endurance by Preserving Glucose Cell Metabolism