Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Feedback on Athletic Amenorrhea

As I mentioned in my last post, my talk at Univ of Akron on Feb 23rd was on the important, yet unmentioned topic of "Athletic Amenorrhea"

If you (a woman) have ever lost your period (that's why I stated woman :) ), for greater than 3 months in a row and it wasn't due to being pregnant or another condition, but rather due to dieting and exercise, you are someone that has suffered from this condition.

The crazy thing is that as women, we're bombarded by messages to be as skinny as we possibly can day in and day out.

However, what these messages fail to admit to us is that if you lose your period for any extensive length of time, you greatly put the health of your bones, heart and reproductive capacity at risk.

In fact, I received this comment from a reader and her words alone will inform you of the seriousness of this issue:

"Thank you SO much for posting this! I totally agree with you that more info needs to be spread about this to both athletes and non-athletes.

I developed secondary athletic-induced amenorrhea after I started training for my first marathon in 2006 and after I stopped taking oral contraceptives. I was happy at first until I started learning the dangers associated with it.

Now I have to have a nuclear bone density scan and so the docs can see if I may already be a candidate for osteoporosis - at only 35 years old :( I've incorporated strength training in my physical training for the past 2 decades so hopefully that has helped me maintain some bone density - but I truly hope more women understand that just a small misstep in nutritional calculations during figure training or endurance training can lead you down a road to the serious health conditions you touched upon. Thank you!!!!"

I too have been a woman that has been affected by this condition. I didn't know why my period was gone at first and doctors just thought that it could be corrected with the "pill". However, that's not correct. Researchers have shown that replacing the suppressed estrogen due to an severe energy deficit will NOT reverse the negative effects on bone health.

The only thing that will reverse the effects of amenorrhea (which is driven by signals from the brain that tell the ovaries to not produce estrogen and progesterone; hence, no ovulation and no menses) is to bring calories back up to the level that the body needs. There is extensive research being conducted right now at the University of Toronto and Penn State looking at how long it takes to reverse amenorrhea, which nutrients are best, and what ratios of protein, carbs and fat is most ideal. To learn more about this, visit this site HERE

I can't wait for the results of this study to come out and learn what these investigators find. In my journey with amenorrhea it took a lot of de-stressing, refeuling and relaxing to get my period to come back to semi-normal. My bone density was affected to some extent, but thankfully, since I was a weight-training athlete and not an endurance athlete, my bone strength was preserved to some extent due to the weight-bearing activities I did almost daily. Yet, I don't know if I'm at increased risk for osteoporosis or another bone disorder - I have to get more bone tests to find out.

Until these results come out from the researchers mentioned above, I hope women start to understand that being extremely underfed can very negatively affect your health. There is a fine line that you don't want to cross when dieting and if you do, you better come back over it quick or your health really suffer.

Be healthy, be in shape, but don't push it too far. Really. You don't need to break your hip at 40 years old because you didn't eat enough in your 20s.

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