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Too Much of a Good Thing

Women who exercise too much risk amenorrhea

A small pilot study of female athletes has worrisome news for women who exercise so strenuously that they stop menstruating, a condition known as amenorrhea.

The Medical College of Wisconsin reports that 10 college track athletes who had stopped menstruating had bone and vascular health equivalent of postmenopausal women. The researchers warn that extended loss of their monthly periods may put them at risk for early osteoporosis.

The findings seem especially surprising, because these are young, athletic women, supposedly in top condition. "You look at these college runners and they look like the epitome of health," says Dr. Anne Zeni Hoch, a sports medicine specialist who led the research. The runners with amenorrhea had a bone density similar to women between the ages of 50 and 59. None of the women studied had a known eating disorder, which can also cause amenorrhea.

The researchers say that proper diet with sufficient calcium is essential for all women, and athletes should be careful that they don't burn more calories during exercise than they consume. For example, a 132-pound woman who exercises one hour daily should consume 2,700 calories. Females between 11 and 24 years old should be getting 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes the study and says that in addition to runners, women gymnasts and figure skaters also frequently exercise strenuously enough to cause amenorrhea.

Professional dancers can also be at risk of amenorrhea. A survey of first-year dance students found that one-third hadn't menstruated for more than three months. Many dancers also suffer from eating disorders, The Times of London reports, which could compound the health risks.

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