A Dangerous Disorder for Female Runners

By: Susan Krivelow, GALTime.com

Running on Empty?

Triathlons are hugely popular with women these days. According to Mike Reilly of Active.com, "Elite athletes really highlight the sport, but the heart and soul of the triathlon is made up of amateurs." And among those amateurs are a lot of 40-44 year old women, he says. I have a close family friend (in her 30s) who's addicted to this endurance sport. It's like she's been indoctrinated into a special exercise cult when she talks about triathlons. She recently traveled to Las Vegas to compete in one and spent 3 or so months training a group of young to middle-aged moms for their first swim, bike, run.

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Great exercise for the body and mind, right? Not so "fast" say researchers. Doctors at the Loyola University Health System are warning that female endurance sport athletes may be at risk for some serious health issues, especially if they're not eating right.


Excessive exercise and inadequate nutrition can lead to low energy, menstrual irregularity, fertility issues, stress, dry hair, brittle nails, fractures and osteoporosis.

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"Marathons and triathlons have become increasingly popular in recent years," said Neeru Jayanthi, MD, medical director of primary care sports medicine, Loyola University Health System. "Many who participate in these events are inexperienced athletes who do not properly care for their bodies while training. This can lead to irreversible damage to their health."
Doctors are diagnosing more women with a disorder called "female athlete triad." Intense training and a poor diet with limited calories combine to cause disordered eating, irregular periods and osteoporosis. Patients are in the teens, 20s, 30's and beyond.

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Treatment includes medical, psychological and nutritional counseling. Patients are typically prohibited from training until their health problems are resolved. But most do return to running and/or swimming and bicycling. Doctors say it's a matter of learning how to make the right training and nutritional decisions. A previous study at Loyola found that women in particular do not change their diets to compensate for rigorous athletic training.

"Female athletes are at greater risk for these health problems," said Haemi Choi, MD, women's sports medicine specialist, Loyola University Health System. "If we can educate women on how to listen to their bodies and support themselves with proper nutrition, we can better protect their health."

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