The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society vol:63 issue:3 pages:443-50
The ongoing hypermetabolic response in patients with prolonged critical illness leads to the loss of lean tissue mass. Since the cachexia of prolonged illness is usually associated with low concentrations of anabolic hormones, hormonal intervention has been thought to be beneficial. However, most interventions have been shown to be ineffective and their indiscriminate use even causes harm. Before considering endocrine intervention in these frail patients, a detailed understanding of the neuroendocrinology of the stress response is warranted. It is now clear that the acute phase and the later phase of critical illness behave differently from an endocrinological point of view. The acute stress response consists primarily of an actively-secreting pituitary in the presence of low circulating peripheral anabolic hormones, suggesting resistance of the peripheral tissues to the effects of anterior pituitary hormones. However, when the disease process becomes prolonged, there is a uniformly-reduced pulsatile secretion of anterior pituitary hormones with proportionally reduced concentrations of peripheral anabolic hormones. The origin of this suppressed pituitary secretion is located in the hypothalamus, as hypothalamic secretagogues can reactivate the anterior pituitary and restore pulsatile secretion. The reactivated pituitary secretion is accompanied by an increase in peripheral target hormones, indicating at least partial sensitivity of these tissues to anterior pituitary hormones in this chronic phase of illness. Thus, endocrine intervention with a combination of hypothalamic secretagogues that more completely reactivate the anterior pituitary could be a more physiological and effective strategy for inducing anabolism in patients with prolonged critical illness.