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Energy balance, not exercise, key to athletic menstrual disturbance

University Park, Pa. - Female athletes often lose their menstrual cycle when training strenuously, but researchers have long speculated on whether this infertility was due to low body fat, low weight or exercise itself. Now, researchers have shown that the cause of athletic amenorrhea is more likely a negative energy balance caused by increasing exercise without increasing food intake.

"A growing proportion of women are susceptible to losing their menstrual cycle when exercising strenuously," says Dr. Nancy I. Williams, assistant professor of kineseology and physiology at Penn State. "If women go six to 12 months without having a menstrual cycle, they could show bone loss. Bone densities in some long distance runners who have gone for a prolonged time period without having normal menstrual cycles can be very low."

In studies done with monkeys, which show menstrual cyclicity much like women, researchers showed that low energy availability associated with strenuous exercise training plays an important role in causing exercise-induced amenorrhea. These researchers, working at the University of Pittsburgh, published findings in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showing that exercise-induced amenorrhea was reversible in the monkeys by increasing food intake while the monkeys still exercised.

Williams worked with Judy L. Cameron, associate professor of psychiatry and cell biology and physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. Dana L. Helmreich and David B. Parfitt, then graduate students, and Anne Caston-Balderrama, at that time a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, were also part of the research team. The researchers decided to look at an animal model to understand the causes of exercise-induced amenorrhea because it is difficult to closely control factors, such as eating habits and exercise, when studying humans. They chose cynomolgus monkeys because, like humans, they have a menstrual cycle of 28 days, o
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
12-Feb-2002


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