Effects of exercise and physical fitness on the pituitary-thyroid axis and on prolactin secretion in male runners

Robert C. Smallridge, Nancy E. Whorton, Kenneth D. Burman, Earl W. Ferguson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The effects of acute exercise and thyrotropin-releasing hormone on the pituitary-thyroid axis were examined in men placed into three well-defined categories of physical fitness. There were 20 sedentary men, 22 joggers (running four to 20 miles per week) and 18 marathoners (running 30 to 100 miles per week) who participated. During treadmill exercise, the mean VO2 max differed among all groups, being 38.5, 45.0, and 60.3 mL/kg · min in the sedentary, jogger, and marathon groups, respectively. Serum was obtained before, immediately after, and one hour after exercise for measurement of thyroxine (T4), triiodothyronine (T3), reverse T3, thyrotropin (TSH), and prolactin. Basal values of all hormones did not differ among the groups. Maximal short-term treadmill exercise produced no change in serum T4, T3, reverse T3, or TSH. Prolactin rose significantly by a similar amount in all three subject groups. On a separate day, ten individuals from each group received thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH; 500 μg IV). Neither the peak TSH response nor the total TSH secreted during two hours after TRH differed among groups. The mean total prolactin secretion in the joggers and marathoners was 48% and 45% greater, respectively, than in the sedentary men. Five subjects in each group also underwent a TRH test immediately postexercise. Similar to the results on the nonexercise day, the integrated TSH response to TRH was similar in all three groups, whereas the integrated PRL response to TRH was increased by 52% and 78% in the two conditioned groups. Post-TRH sera from one subject in each group were fractionated on a Sephadex G-100 column. In all three instances, prolactin eluted as a single peak indistinguishable from monomeric 125I-PRL. We conclude that TSH secretion and serum thyroid hormone levels are unaltered either by treadmill exercise or physical conditioning. While the prolactin response to maximal treadmill exercise is similar among groups, the increased prolactin response after TRH suggests an alteration in prolactin secretion in male runners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-954
Number of pages6
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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