Beta-endorphin and ACTH levels in peripheral blood during and after aerobic and anaerobic exercise

Summary

Beta-endorphin (Β-End) and adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) were determined in the peripheral blood of 14 human volunteers exercising on a bicycle ergometer. After 1 h of submaximal work below anaerobic threshold (AT), defined as the 4 mmol · l−1 lactic acid level in arteriolar blood (Kindermann 1979; Mader 1980), Β-End and ACTH levels did not change from control conditions. Eleven of the same 14 subjects performed an uninterrupted graded exercise test on the same bicycle ergometer until exhaustion. This time Β-End and ACTH levels increased concomitantly with exercise of high intensity: at each moment, during and after this maximal test, a highly significant correlation (P<0.0001) was noted between the levels of Β- End and ACTH. The peak values of these hormones were reached within 10 min after stopping maximal exercise, and coincided with lactic acid peak levels. A rise in lactic acid levels above the anaerobic threshold always preceded the exercise-induced rise in Β-End and ACTH. Within the population tested, two subgroups could be distinguished: one comprising individuals whose hormonal response nearly coincided with the rise in lactic acid (rapid responders) and a second group composed of subjects whose normal response appeared delayed with respect to the lactic acid rise (slow responders). These results support the view that Β-End and ACTH are secreted in equimolar quantities into the blood circulation in response to exercise, and suggest that metabolic changes of anaerobiosis play a key role in the regulation of stress-hormone release. In view of the variable time of onset of hormonal response, it seems likely that complex regulatory mechanisms are operative.

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Correspondence to Kenny de Meirleir.

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de Meirleir, K., Naaktgeboren, N., Van Steirteghem, A. et al. Beta-endorphin and ACTH levels in peripheral blood during and after aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Europ. J. Appl. Physiol. 55, 5–8 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00422884

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Key words

  • Exercise
  • Anaerobic threshold
  • Beta-endorphin
  • ACTH