“What we’re dealing with is just a tiny increase in levels, which can make it easier for the women to build muscle mass and absorb oxygen,” says Magnus Hagmar, postgraduate at the Department of Woman and Child Health. “This means that they might have got quicker results from their training and therefore been encouraged to train harder and more often.”
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common and congenital cause of menstrual disorder that, amongst other things, can lead to a slight increase in testosterone production. Hagmar now shows in his thesis not only that PCOS is often behind menstrual disorders in elite Olympic athletes, but also that polycystic ovaries – part of PCOS – were more common amongst elite Olympic athletes (37 per cent) than amongst women on average (20 per cent).
Hagmar stresses that the results have nothing to do with doping. The 90 elite athletes that took part in the study have taken regular drug tests, all of them negative. He believes that the studies overturn old notions that female sporting performance can damage the health.
A central issue in elite-level women’s sport in recent years has been the ‘female athlete triad’, whereby tough training combined with low energy intake has been thought to contribute to menstrual disorder and subsequent low bone density (osteopenia) caused by low levels of oestrogen. However, this new study shows that elite female athletes, despite menstrual disorders, have very strong bones. In sports where low body-weight is an advantage, women also generally have a healthier way of controlling their weight than their male counterparts. “The fact that not a single woman had low bone density takes away one of the factors of the female athlete triad”, says Hagmar.
MEDICA.de; Source: Karolinska Institute