Why female athletes may lose their period, and why it’s a bad thing
Losing the menstrual cycle is seen as common, and even beneficial, among female athletes. Losing your period from hard training may feel like a relief, but repeatedly missing your period can lead to serious long term effects. It’s a lot more than simply not bleeding.
Losing the period is called amenorrhea. The most common type of amenorrhea to affect athletes is hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is when women with previously regular cycles don’t get their period for 3 or more months. It can be caused by low body fat, low caloric intake, serious exercise, emotional stress, and other factors. Hypothalamic amenorrhea happens when the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain, stops releasing the hormones that cause the menstrual cycle. One main hormone affected is estrogen, which is an important reproductive hormone that is essential for bone and cardiovascular health.
Risks of hypothalamic amenorrhea:
- Cardiovascular disease and impaired blood vessel performance
- Loss of bone density resulting in increased injury risk
- Increased risk of depression, anxiety, and psychological stress
- Infertility and inability to get pregnant in the future
Despite these risks, many female athletes do not seek help because the loss of a period is often perceived to be a relief from discomfort that impacts performance. Know the risks and warning signs of amenorrhea to ensure that your body is getting the fuel and recovery it needs to perform at its best.
by Carlyn Johnson
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