Dr. Andrew Fagan Article

Seek help for female athlete triad syndrome

The present young generation has seen a huge spike in the number of elite female athletes.

A lot of these young females are pushing to excel physically in sport, while at the same time dealing with social pressures.

Female athlete triad is a syndrome that can affect physically active young girls. The primary cause of the syndrome involves dietary energy availability, defined as caloric intake minus energy physically expended.

Energy is taken into the body via food consumption. Our bodies use the energy consumed through participation in activity and sport. If energy taken in is not equal to or higher than used, a deficit will occur.

There are various reasons why an energy deficit may arise. Low energy availability may be due to an eating disorder, but on a regular basis this is not so.

Often female athletes experience low availability of energy because an increased amount of exercise is not matched with an increase of calories taken into the body.

It is paramount to change eating habits to meet physical requirements in order to avoid a deficit. Having low dietary energy due to excessive exercise or nutritional restriction leaves too little energy for the body to function properly, such as maintaining a regular menstrual cycle or upholding healthy bone density.

Amenorrhea is the second disorder in the triad. It is defined as the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle for more than three months. For younger women, it is characterized by delayed menarche.

With a low amount of dietary energy, female bodies have difficulty developing estrogen from the ovaries. Without proper estrogen release, the menstrual cycle is disrupted; this can lead to irregularity or stopping altogether.

Osteoporosis is the third disorder in the triad; this is characterized by compromised bone strength.

Low estrogen levels due to low dietary energy can cause cells in our body called osteoclasts to live longer. These cells are responsible for bone reabsorption, or breakdown, and can lead to bones being more brittle and therefore more susceptible to fracture.

If you suspect this triad in a young female, consultation with your health care professional is strongly recommended.

Dr. Andrew Fagan is a licensed chiropractor, kinesiologist and clinical acupuncture provider. You can reach him at dr.fagan@porthopehealthcentre.com or 905-885-5111