Energy Deficiency, Menstrual Disturbances, and Low Bone Mass: What Do Exercising Australian Women Know About the Female Athlete Triad?

in International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism
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Purpose:

Prevention of the female athlete triad is essential to protect female athletes’ health. The aim of this study was to investigate the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of regularly exercising adult women in Australia toward eating patterns, menstrual cycles, and bone health.

Methods:

A total of 191 female exercisers, age 18–40 yr, engaging in ≥2 hr/wk of strenuous activity, completed a survey. After 11 surveys were excluded (due to incomplete answers), the 180 participants were categorized into lean-build sports (n = 82; running/athletics, triathlon, swimming, cycling, dancing, rowing), non-lean-build sports (n = 94; basketball, netball, soccer, hockey, volleyball, tennis, trampoline, squash, Australian football), or gym/fitness activities (n = 4).

Results:

Mean (± SD) training volume was 9.0 ± 5.5 hr/wk, with participants competing from local up to international level. Only 10% of respondents could name the 3 components of the female athlete triad. Regardless of reported history of stress fracture, 45% of the respondents did not think that amenorrhea (absence of menses for ≥3 months) could affect bone health, and 22% of those involved in lean-build sports would do nothing if experiencing amenorrhea (vs. 3.2% in non-lean-build sports, p = .005). Lean-build sports, history of amenorrhea, and history of stress fracture were all significantly associated with not taking action in the presence of amenorrhea (all p < .005).

Conclusions:

Few active Australian women are aware of the detrimental effects of menstrual dysfunction on bone health. Education programs are needed to prevent the female athlete triad and ensure that appropriate actions are taken by athletes when experiencing amenorrhea.

The authors are with the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia.