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September 2001
Vol. 4, No. 9, p 11.
news in brief
Racing toward bone loss
opening artYoung women who exercise and diet to the point that they stop menstruating are at risk for developing osteoporosis and cardiovascular problems, according to a recent study done by Anne Zeni Hoch at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Excessive exercise, stress, and genetics can cause menstrual periods to cease, a condition called amenorrhea. A poor diet, however, is the primary risk, according to Hoch. “I wouldn’t say that there is ever too much exercise,” says Hoch, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and orthopedic surgery. “It’s a matter of not eating enough calories to fuel your body.”

Hoch studied 10 women runners with an average age of 21 from Marquette University in Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin, Parkside, in Kenosha. The women ran an average of 25 miles per week and had not been menstruating for an average of 2.5 years.

As a result of an inadequate diet and strenuous exercise regime, a woman’s reproductive system will shut down and menstrual periods will stop. Levels of estrogen, which enables bones to absorb calcium, are reduced, even though the body continues to extract calcium from bones. The body’s skeleton is weakened, and this condition may lead to osteoporosis, a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Typically, osteoporosis is found in postmenopausal women.

Each of the women studied had developed endothelial cell dysfunction, one of the first signs of cardiovascular disease. “The blood vessel has lost its ability to dilate, so essentially it becomes somewhat stiff,” says Hoch.

Reduction of exercise, a healthy diet, and time are the initial treatments for amenorrhea, according to Hoch. If these fail, women are given estrogen supplements and birth control pills to restore their menstruation. “We are going to test these women after they have a dietary consult and are treated with estrogen to see if their function improves,” says Hoch.

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