Fatigue, Sport Performance and Hormones…

How do you feel on Monday morning, when the alarm wakes you at 7am with a day of work ahead after the weekend? A bit tired, slightly lethargic, sluggish, maybe a little bit down, perhaps a few regrets about somewhat too much alcohol/food over weekend, frustrated that the exercise training schedule didn’t go according to plan?sleep

There are many causes of fatigue and sport underperformance: Endocrine, immunological, infective, metabolic, haematological, nutritional, digestive, neoplastic….. The adrenal gland in the Endocrine system in particular has come in for some bad press recently.

Adrenal woes

Undoubtedly the adrenal glands have a case to answer. Situated above the kidneys these Endocrine glands produce glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens from the adrenal cortex and from the adrenal medulla adrenaline. Glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) have a metabolic function to maintain energy homeostasis and an immune function to suppress inflammation. Mineralocorticoids (e.g. aldosterone) maintain electrolyte and water balance. As mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids are similar biological steroid molecules, there is some degree of overlap in their actions.

Addison’s disease and Cushing’s disease are serious medical conditions, corresponding respectively to under or over production by the adrenal glands of steroid hormones. Someone presenting in Addisonian crisis is a medical emergency requiring resuscitation with intravenous hydrocortisone and fluids. Conversely those with Cushing’s can present with hypertension and elevated blood glucose. Yet, apart from in the extremes of these disease states, cortisol metrics do not correlate with clinical symptoms. This is one reason why it is unwise and potentially dangerous to stimulate cortisol production based on clinical symptoms. Inappropriate exogenous steroid intake can suppress normal endogenous production and reduce the ability to respond normally to “stress” situations, such as infection. This is why the prescription of steroids, for example to reduce inflammation in autoimmune disease, is always given in a course of reducing dose and a steroid alert card has to be carried. Athletes should also be aware that exogenous steroid intake is a doping offence.

However, what is the “normal” concentration for cortisol? Well, for a start, it depends what time of day a sample is taken, as cortisol is produced in a circadian rhythm, with highest values in the morning on waking and lowest levels about 2/3am. Nor is this temporal periodicity of production the only variable, there are considerations such as tissue responsiveness and metabolism (break down) of the hormone. On top of these variables there are other inputs to the feedback control mechanism, which can in turn influence these variables. In other words, focusing on the steroid hormone production of the adrenal gland in isolation, could overlook underlying hypothamalmic-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) axis dysfunction and indeed wider issues.

Much maligned thyroid

That is not end of the possible causes of fatigue and sport underperformance: the H-P-A axis is just one of many interrelated, interacting Endocrine systems. There are many neuroendocrine inputs to the hypothalamus, the gate keeper of the control of the Endocrine system. Furthermore there are network interaction effects between the various Endocrine control feedback loops. For example cortisol towards the top end of “normal” range can impede the conversion at the tissue level of thyroxine (T4) to the more active triiodothyronine (T3) by enzymes which require selenium to function. Rather T4 can be converted to reverse T3 which is biologically inactive, but blocks the receptors for T3 and thus impair its action. This in turn can interfere with the feedback loop controlling thyroid function (hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis). The physiological ratio of T4 to T3 is 14:1, which is why supplementation with desiccated thyroid is not advisable with ratio of 4:1. There are other processes which can crucially interfere with this peripheral conversion of T4 to T3, such as inflammation and gut dysbiosis, which can occur as result of strenuous exercise training. So what might appear to be a primary thyroid dysfunction can have an apparently unrelated underlying cause. Indeed amongst highly trained athletes thyroid function can show an unusual pattern, with both thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4 at low end of the “normal “range, thought to be due to resetting of the hypothalamic-pituitary control signalling system. This highlights that the “normal” range for many hormones comprises subsets of the population and in the case of TSH, the “normal” range is not age adjusted, despite TSH increasing with age. As described by Dr Boelaert at recent conferences, there is certainly no medical justification for reports of some athletes in the USA being given thyroxine with TSH>2 (when the normal range is 0.5-5mU/l). Although thyroxine is not on the banned list for athletes, it could have potentially serious implications for health due to its impact on the Endocrine system as a whole.

Endocrine system interactions

SportsEndocrinologyWordCloud

Symptoms of fatigue are common to many clinical conditions, not just dysfunction in an Endocrine control axis in isolation, nor even the network interactive effects of the Endocrine system in isolation. For example, the impact of nutrition relative to training load produces a spectrum of clinical pictures and Endocrine disturbances seen in Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) in terms of health and sport performance.

Underlying mechanisms of Endocrine dysfunction

There may be predisposing factors in developing any clinical syndrome, the usual suspects being inflammation: whether infective, dysbioses, autoimmune; nutritional status linked with endocrine status;  training load with inadequate periodised recovery to name a few….

References

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance British Journal of Sport Medicine 2017

Sports Endocrinology – what does it have to do with performance? British Journal of Sport Medicine 2017

Advanced Medicine Conference, Royal College of Physicians, London 13-16 February 2017, Endocrine session: Dr Kristien Boelaert, Dr Helen Simpson, Professor Rebecca Reynolds

Subclinical hypothydroidism in athletes. Lecture by Dr Kristeien Boelaert, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine Spring Conference 2014. The Fatigued Athlete

Sport Performance and RED-S, insights from recent Annual Sport and Exercise Medicine and Innovations in Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conferences British Journal of Sport Medicine 2017

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport CPD module British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Sleep for health and sports performance British Journal of Sport Medicine 2017

Inflammation: why and how much? British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Clusters of athletes British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Enhancing Sport Performance: Part 1 British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Balance of recovery and adaptation for sports performance British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 2017

Annual Sport and Exercise Medicine Conference, London 8/3/17 Gut Dysbiosis, Dr Ese Stacey

Adrenal fatigue does not exist: a systematic review BMC Endocrine Disorders. 2016; 16(1): 48.

A Controversy Continues: Combination Treatment for Hypothyroidism Endocrine News, Endocrine Society April 2017

Clusters of Athletes

At some time, most athletes experience periods of underperformance. What are the potential causes and contributing factors?

classification

Effective training improves sports performance through a process of adaptation that occurs, at both the cellular and system levels, during the recovery phase. Training overload must be balanced with sufficient subsequent recovery. A long-term improvement in form is expected, following a temporary dip in performance, due to short-term fatigue.

However, when an athlete experiences a stagnation of performance, what are the potential underlying causes? How should these be addressed to prevent an acute situation developing into a more chronic spiral of decreasing performance?

Depending on clinical presentation, the first step is to exclude medical conditions. Potential infective causes include Epstein Barr virus (particularly in young athletes), Lyme disease and Weil’s disease. Systemic inflammatory conditions should be considered. Endocrine and metabolic causes include pituitary, gonadal, adrenal, thyroid  dysfunction, blood sugar control,  and malabsorption.

If medical conditions are excluded, attention should turn to the athlete’s energy balance in the context of adherence to the current training plan. Potential causes of underperformance, the inability to improve in training and competition, are illustrated in the diagram above.

Athletes in the upper right quadrant fail to live up to performance expectations, in spite of maintaining a good energy balance while adhering to the prescribed training plan. However, they may represent non-functional overreaching, where overload is not balanced with sufficient recovery. In other words, the periodisation of training and recovery is not optimised. The balance between chronic training load (fitness) and acute training load (fatigue) provides a useful metric for assessing form. Heart rate variability (HRV) can be another potentially useful measure in detecting aerobic, endurance fatigue. If the training plan is not producing the expected improvements, then this plan needs revising. Don’t forget that sleep is essential to facilitate endocrine driven adaptations to exercise training.

Athletes in the lower right quadrant are of more concern. Inadequate energy balance, especially during periods of increased training load or intentional weight loss, can be a cause of underperformance, despite the athlete being able to adhere to the training plan. This would correspond to being at risk of developing relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) on the amber warning in the risk stratification laid out by the International Olympic Committee.

Both of these groups are able to adhere to a training plan, but suboptimal training and recovery periodisation and/or insufficient energy intake can produce a situation of underperformance. Intervention is required to prevent them moving into the clusters on the left, representing a more chronic underperformance scenarios that are therefore more difficult to rectify.

Athletes in the upper left quadrant exhibit overtraining syndrome: a prolonged maladaptation process accompanied by a decrease in performance (not merely stagnation) and inability to adhere to training plan. The metric of decreased HRV and inability of heart rate to accelerate in response to exercise have been suggested as markers of overtraining.

Those athletes in the lower left quadrant fall into the RED-S category, where multiple interacting Endocrine networks are impacted by an energy deficient state. RED-S not only impairs sports performance, but impacts both current and future health. For example low endogenous levels of sex steroids and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) disrupt formation of bone microarchitecture and bone mineralisation, resulting in increased risk of recurrent stress fracture in addition to potentially irreversible bone loss in the longer term. In cases of recurrent injury and underperformance amongst athletes it is imperative to exclude Endocrine dysfunction and then consider whether RED-S is the fundamental cause.

There are many potential causes of underperformance in athletes. Once medical conditions have been excluded, the main aim should be to prevent acute situations becoming chronic and therefore more difficult to resolve.

References

Sport Endocrinology British Journal of Sport Medicine

Sport Performance and RED-S, insights from recent Annual Sport and Exercise Medicine and Innovations in Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conferences British Journal of Sport Medicine

Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport CPD module for British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Optimal Health: For All Athletes! Part 4 – Mechanisms, Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Balance of recovery and adaptation for sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Sleep for health and sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Inflammation: why and how much? Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Fatigue, Sport Performance and Hormones… Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Part 3: Training Stress Balance—So What? Joe Friel

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Science for Sport

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance. BAEM Spring Conference 2015.

Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome: Joint Consensus Statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of
Sports Medicine. Joint Consensus Statement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2012

Sports Endocrinology

SportsEndocrinologyWordCloud

The Endocrine system comprises various glands distributed throughout the body that secrete hormones to circulate in the blood stream. These chemical messengers, have effects on a vast range of tissue types, organs and therefore regulate metabolic and physiological processes occurring in systems throughout the body.

The various hormones produced by the Endocrine system do not work in isolation; they have interactive network effects. The magnitude of influence of a hormone is largely determined by its circulating concentration. This in turn is regulated by feedback loops. For example, too much circulating hormone will have negative feedback effect causing the control-releasing system to down regulate, which will in turn bring the level of the circulating hormone back into range. Ovulation in the menstrual cycle is a rare example of a process induced by positive hormonal feedback.

In the control system of hormone release, there are interactions with other inputs in addition to the circulating concentration of the hormone. The hypothalamus (gland in the brain) is a key gateway in the neuro-endocrine system, coordinating inputs from many sources to regulate output of the pituitary gland, which produces the major stimulating hormones to act on the Endocrine glands throughout the body.

growthhormone

The Endocrine system displays complex dynamics. There are temporal variations in secretion of hormones both in the long term during an individual’s lifetime and on shorter timescales, as seen in the diurnal variation of some hormones such as cortisol, displaying a circadian rhythm of secretion. The most fascinating and complex control system is found in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Variation in both frequency and amplitude of gonadotrophin releasing factor (GnRH) secretion from the hypothalamus dictates initiation of menarche and the subsequent distinct pattern of cyclical patterns of the sex steroids, oestrogen and progesterone.

So what have the Endocrine system and hormone production got to do with athletes and sport performance?

  1. Exercise training stimulates release of certain hormones that support favourable adaptive changes. For example, exercise is a major stimulus of growth hormone, whose action positively affects body composition in terms of lean mass, bone density and reduction of visceral fat.
  2. Disruption of hormones secreted from the Endocrine system can impair sport performance and have potential long term adverse health risks for athletes. This picture is seen in the female athlete triad (disordered eating, amenorrhoea and low density) and relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) with multi-system effects. In this situation there is a mismatch between dietary energy intake (including diet quality) and energy expenditure through training. The net result is a shift to an energy saving mode in the Endocrine system, which impedes both improvement in sport performance and health. RED-S should certainly be considered among the potential causes of sport underperformance, suboptimal health and recurrent injury,  with appropriate medical support being provided.
  3. Caution! Athletic hypothalamic amenorrhoea, as seen in female athletes (in female athlete triad and RED-S) is a diagnosis of exclusion. Other causes of secondary amenorrhoea (cessation of periods >6 months) should be excluded such as pregnancy, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), prolactinoma, ovarian failure and primary thyroid dysfunction.
  4. Unfortunately the beneficial effects of some hormones on sport performance are misused in the case of doping with growth hormone, erythropoeitin (EPO) and anabolic steroids. Excess administered exogenous hormones not only disrupt the normal control feedback loops, but have very serious health risks, which are seen in disease states of excess endogenous hormone secretion.

So the Endocrine system and the circulating hormones are key players not only in supporting health, but in determining sport performance in athletes.

References

Sport Performance and RED-S, insights from recent Annual Sport and Exercise Medicine and Innovations in Sport and Exercise Nutrition Conferences Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sports Medicine 17/3/17

Teaching module on RED-S for British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine as CPD for Sports Physicians

Optimal Health: Including Female Athletes! Part 1 – Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 26/3/17

Optimal Health: Including Male Athletes! Part 2 – REDs Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 4/4/17

Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 13/4/17

Optimal health: for all athletes! Part 4 Mechanisms Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine 13/4/17

Enhancing sport performance: part 1 Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Enhancing sports performance: part 3

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Sleep for health and sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Balance of recovery and adaptation for sports performance Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Clusters of athletes Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Inflammation: why and how much? Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Fatigue, Sport Performance and Hormones…Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Keay N, Logobardi S, Ehrnborg C, Cittadini A, Rosen T, Healy ML, Dall R, Bassett E, Pentecost C, Powrie J, Boroujerdi M, Jorgensen JOL, Sacca L. Growth hormone (GH) effects on bone and collagen turnover in healthy adults and its potential as a marker of GH abuse in sport: a double blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 85 (4) 1505-1512. 2000.

Wallace J, Cuneo R, Keay N, Sonksen P. Responses of markers of bone and collagen turover to exercise, growth hormone (GH) administration and GH withdrawal in trained adult males. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 2000. 85 (1): 124-33.

Keay N. The effects of growth hormone misuse/abuse. Use and abuse of hormonal agents: Sport 1999. Vol 7, no 3, 11-12.

Wallace J, Cuneo R, Baxter R, Orskov H, Keay N, Sonksen P. Responses of the growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like factor axis to exercise,GH administration and GH withdrawal in trained adult males: a potential test for GH abuse in sport. Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism 1999. 84 (10): 3591-601.

Keay N, Logobardi S, Ehrnborg C, Cittadini A, Rosen T, Healy ML, Dall R, Bassett E, Pentecost C, Powrie J, Boroujerdi M, Jorgensen JOL, Sacca L. Growth hormone (GH) effects on bone and collagen turnover in healthy adults and its potential usefulness as in the detection of GH abuse in sport: a double blind, placebo controlled study. Endocrine Society Conference 1999.

Wallace J, Cuneo R, Keay N. Bone markers and growth hormone abuse in athletes. Growth hormone and IGF Research, vol 8: 4: 348.

Keay N, Fogelman I, Blake G. Effects of dance training on development,endocrine status and bone mineral density in young girls.Current Research in Osteoporosis and bone mineral measurement 103, June 1998.

Keay N, Effects of dance training on development, endocrine status and bone mineral density in young girls, Journal of Endocrinology, November 1997, vol 155, OC15.

Keay N, Fogelman I, Blake G. Bone mineral density in professional female dancers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 31 no2, 143-7, June 1997.

Keay N. Bone mineral density in professional female dancers. IOC World Congress on Sports Sciences. October 1997.

Keay N, Bone Mineral Density in Professional Female Dancers, Journal of Endocrinology, November 1996, volume 151, supplement p5.

Optimal health: for all athletes! Part 4 Mechanisms

As described in previous blogs, the female athlete triad (disordered eating, amenorrhoea, low bone mineral density) is part of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports (RED-S). RED-S has multi-system effects and can affect both female and male athletes together with young athletes. The fundamental issue is a mismatch of energy availability and energy expenditure through exercise training. As described in previous blogs this situation leads to a range of adverse effects on both health and sports performance. I have tried to unravel the mechanisms involved. Please note the diagram below is simplified view: I have only included selected major neuroendocrine control systems.

reds

Low energy availability is an example of a metabolic stressor. Other sources of stress in an athlete will be training load and possibly inadequate sleep. These physiological and psychological stressors input into the neuroendocrine system via the hypothalamus. Low plasma glucose concentrations stimulates release of glucagon and suppression of the antagonist hormone insulin from the pancreas. This causes mobilisation of glycogen stores and fat deposits. Feedback of this metabolic situation to the hypothalamus, in the short term is via low blood glucose and insulin levels and in longer term via low levels of leptin from reduced fat reserves.

A critical body weight and threshold body fat percentage was proposed as a requirement for menarche and subsequent regular menstruation by Rose Frisch in 1984. To explain the mechanism behind this observation, a peptide hormone leptin is secreted by adipose tissue which acts on the hypothalamus. Leptin is one of the hormones responsible for enabling the episodic, pulsatile release of gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) which is key in the onset of puberty, menarche in girls and subsequent menstrual cycles. In my 3 year longitudinal study of 87 pre and post-pubertal girls, those in the Ballet stream had lowest body fat and leptin levels associated with delayed menarche and low bone mineral density (BMD) compared to musical theatre and control girls. Other elements of body composition also play a part as athletes tend to have higher lean mass to fat mass ratio than non-active population and energy intake of 45 KCal/Kg lean mass is thought to be required for regular menstruation.

Suppression of GnRH pulsatility, results in low secretion rates of pituitary trophic factors LH and FSH which are responsible for regulation of sex steroid production by the gonads. In the case of females this manifests as menstrual disruption with associated anovulation resulting in low levels of oestradiol. In males this suppression of the hypothamlamic-pituitary-gonadal axis results in low testosterone production. In males testosterone is aromatised to oestradiol which acts on bone to stimulate bone mineralisation. Low energy availability is an independent factor of impaired bone health due to decreased insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) concentrations. Low body weight was found to be an independent predictor of BMD in my study of 57 retired pre-menopausal professional dancers. Hence low BMD is seen in both male and female athletes with RED-S. Low age matched BMD in athletes is of concern as this increases risk of stress fracture.  In long term suboptimal BMD is irrecoverable even if normal function of hypothamlamic-pituitary-gonadal function is restored, as demonstrated in my study of retired professional dancers. In young athletes RED-S could result in suboptimal peak bone mass (PBM) and associated impaired bone microstructure. Not an ideal situation if RED-S continues into adulthood.

Another consequence of metabolic, physiological and psychological stressor input to the hypothalamus is suppression of the secretion of thyroid hormones, including the tissue conversion of T4 to the more active T3. Athletes may display a variation of “non-thyroidal illness/sick euthyroid” where both TSH and T4 and T3 are in low normal range. Thyroid hormone receptors are expressed in virtually all tissues which explains the extensive effects of suboptimal levels of T4 and T3 in RED-S including on physiology and metabolism.

In contrast, a neuroendocrine control axis that is activated in RED-S is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. In this axis, stressors increase the amplitude of the pulsatile secretion of CRH, which in turn increases the release of ACTH and consequently cortisol secretion from the adrenal cortex. Elevated cortisol suppresses immunity and increases risk of infection. Long term cortisol elevation also impairs the other hormone axes: growth hormone, thyroid and reproductive. In other words the stress response in RED-S amplifies the suppression of key hormones both directly and indirectly via endocrine network interactions.

The original female athlete triad is part of RED-S which can involve male and female athletes of all ages. There are a range of interacting endocrine systems responsible for the multi-system effects seen in RED-S. These effects can impact on current and future health and sports performance.

References

Teaching module on RED-S for BASEM as CPD for Sports Physicians

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Optimal health: including male athletes! Part 2 Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 4/4/17

Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

Keay N, Fogelman I, Blake G. Effects of dance training on development,endocrine status and bone mineral density in young girls. Current Research in Osteoporosis and bone mineral measurement 103, June 1998.

Jenkins P, Taylor L, Keay N. Decreased serum leptin levels in females dancers are affected by menstrual status. Annual Meeting of the Endocrine Society. June 1998.

Keay N, Dancing through adolescence. Editorial, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 32 no 3 196-7, September 1998.

Keay N, Effects of dance training on development, endocrine status and bone mineral density in young girls, Journal of Endocrinology, November 1997, vol 155, OC15.

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance. BAEM Spring Conference 2015.

Mountjoy M, Sundgot-Borgen J, Burke L, Carter S, Constantini N, Lebrun C, Meyer N, Sherman R, Steffen K, Budgett R, Ljungqvist A. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the Female Athlete Triad-Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).Br J Sports Med. 2014 Apr;48(7):491-7.

“Subclinical hypothydroidism in athletes”. Lecture by Dr Kristeien Boelaert at BASEM Spring Conference 2014 on the Fatigued Athlete

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Optimal health: especially young athletes! Part 3 Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports

In my previous blogs I have described the adverse effects of Relative Energy Deficiency in sports (RED-S) in both female and male athletes both in terms of current health and sport performance and potential long term health problems. What about young aspiring athletes? There is concern that early sport specialisation, imbalances in training not covering the full range of the components of fitness, together with reduced sleep, all combine to increase injury risk. Young athletes are particularly vulnerable to developing RED-S during a period of growth and development accompanied by a high training load.

Sufficient energy availability and diet quality, including micronutrients, is especially important in young athletes. To investigate further I undertook a three year longitudinal study involving 87 pre- and post-pubertal girls, spread across control pupils at day school together with students in vocational training in both musical theatre and ballet streams. There was a gradation in hours of physical exercise training per week ranging from controls with least, followed by musical theatre, through to ballet stream with the most.

In all girls dietary, training and menstrual history were recorded and collected every six months. At the same visit anthropometric measurements were performed by an experienced Paediatric nurse and bloods were taken for Endocrine markers of bone metabolism and leptin. Annual DEXA scans measured body composition, total body bone mineral density (BMD) and BMD at lumbar spine (including volumetric) and BMD at femoral neck.

The key findings included a correlation between hours of training and the age of menarche and subsequent frequency of periods. In turn, any menstrual dysfunction was associated with low age-matched (Z score) BMD at the lumbar spine. There were significant differences between groups for age-matched (Z score) of BMD at lumbar spine, with musical theatre students having the highest and ballet students the lowest. There were no significant differences in dietary intake between the three groups of students, yet the energy expenditure from training would be very different. In other words, if there is balance between energy availability and energy expenditure from training, resulting in concurrent normal menstrual function, then such a level of exercise has a beneficial effect on BMD accrual in young athletes, as demonstrated in musical theatre students. Conversely if there is a mismatch between energy intake and output due to high training volume, this leads to menstrual dysfunction, which in turn adversely impacts BMD accrual, as shown in the ballet students.

I was fortunate to have two sets of identical twins in my study. One girl in each twin pair in the ballet stream at vocational school had a twin at a non-dance school. So in each twin set, there would be identical genetic programming for age of menarche and accumulation of peak bone mass (PBM). However the environmental influence of training had the dominant effect, as shown by a much later age of menarche and decreased final BMD at the lumbar spine in the ballet dancing girl in each identical twin pair.

After stratification for months either side of menarche, the peak rate of change for BMD at the lumbar spine was found to be just before menarche, declining rapidly to no change by 60 months post menarche. These findings suggest that optimal PBM and hence optimal adult BMD would not be attained if menarche is delayed due to environmental factors such as low energy density diet. If young athletes such as these go on to enter professional companies, or become professional athletes then optimal, age-matched BMD may never be attained as continued low energy density diet and menstrual dysfunction associated with RED-S may persist. Associated low levels of vital hormones such as insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and sex steroids impair bone microarchitecture and mineralisation. Thus increasing risk of injury such as stress fracture and other long term health problems. The crucial importance of attaining peak potential during childhood and puberty was described at a recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine based on life course studies. For example, delay in puberty results in 20% reduction of bone mass.

slide10

It is concerning that RED-S continues to occur in young athletes, with potential current and long term adverse consequences for health. Young people should certainly be encouraged to exercise but with guidance to avoid any potential pitfalls where at all possible. In my next blog I will delve into the Endocrine mechanisms involved in RED-S: the aetiology and the outcomes .

References

Optimal Health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Optimal health: including male athletes! Part 2 Relative Energy Deficiency in sports Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 4/4/17

Keay N. The modifiable factors affecting bone mineral accumulation in girls: the paradoxical effect of exercise on bone. Nutrition Bulletin 2000, vol 25, no 3. 219-222.

Keay N The effects of exercise training on bone mineral accumulation in adolescent girls. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Vol 15, suppl 1 2000.

Keay N, Frost M, Blake G, Patel R, Fogelman I. Study of the factors influencing the accumulation of bone mineral density in girls. Osteoporosis International. 2000 vol 11, suppl 1. S31.

New S, Samuel A, Lowe S, Keay N. Nutrient intake and bone health in ballet dancers and healthy age matched controls: preliminary findings from a longitudinal study on peak bone mass development in adolescent females, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 1998

Keay N, Dancing through adolescence. Editorial, British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 32 no 3 196-7, September 1998.

Bone health and fractures in children. National Osteoporosis Society

Lifetime influences on musculoskeletal ageing and body composition. Lecture by Professor Diana Kuh, Director of MRC Unit for Lifelong Healthy Ageing, at Royal Society of Medicine, conference on Sports Injuries and sports orthopaedics. 17/1/17

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance. BAEM Spring Conference 2015.

Health and fitness in young people

Optimal health: including male athletes! Part 2 Relative Energy Deficiency in sports

skijump

As discussed in my previous blog Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones, the female athlete triad is well described since 1984. The triad comprises disordered eating, amenorrhoea and reduced bone mineral density (BMD). What was uncertain was whether this was a reversible training effect. My study of professional retired pre-menopausal female dancers demonstrated that such bone loss is irreversible, despite resumption of menses. Furthermore, low body weight, independent of amenorrhoea, causes BMD loss. A few female athletes in my subsequent longitudinal study of professional dancers in the English National Ballet company were “robust” and continued to menstruate, in spite of low body weight. However this could have involved anovulatory cycles and therefore low oestrogen. One parameter cannot be considered in isolation.

Furthermore, it has become apparent that the female athlete triad is just part of a much larger picture, known as Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (RED-S). The fundamental issue is that of energy deficiency caused by a mismatch of energy intake and energy expenditure from exercise training. Quality of diet, including micronutrients is also important.

If you are a male athlete, you may be thinking that this is all just a problem for female counterparts? No. Male athletes can also develop RED-S, especially in sports where low body weight confers a sport performance advantage, for example long-distance runners and road cyclists (especially climbers). In a fascinating lecture, Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen from the Department of Sport Medicine, at the Norwegian School of Sport and Exercise Science, described the occurrence in male ski jumpers.

This energy deficient state in RED-S in both female and male athletes produces a cascade, network effect on multiple systems: immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, metabolic and haematological effects. Clearly suboptimal functioning in these key areas has implications for current physical and psychological health of athletes and therefore their sport performance. The psychological element is of note as this may be both cause and effect of RED-S. After all in order to be a successful, especially in sport, a high level of motivation, bordering on obsession, is required. Although athletes with RED-S may not fall into a defined clinical disease state, they demonstrate a subclinical condition that impacts health. Performance implications include decreased training response with reduced endurance, muscle strength and glycogen storage, alongside an increased risk of injury, probably due to impaired adaptive response to training and a decrease in co-ordination and concentration. Psychological sequelae include depression and irritability.

Some features of RED-S may be lead to irreversible health issues in the future, as seen in the case of athletic hypothalamic amenorrhoea in female athletes with permanent loss of BMD. In both male and female athletes low energy density diet relative to energy expenditure with training results in low levels of insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and sex steroid hormones which impair not only sport performance but bone microarchitecture and mineralisation. Although hypothalamic suppression in females is manifest by lack of menstruation, there is no such obvious clinical sign in males, who may nevertheless also be experiencing suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. It has been shown that oestradiol is the key sex steroid hormone in promoting bone mineralisation: for both male and female. In males testosterone is aromatised to oestradiol which in turn acts on bone. As the same mechanisms are involved in the aetiology and effects of RED-S, then the long term consequences will most likely be the same for both female and male athletes.

In my next blog I will explore the consequences of RED-S in young athletes and delve into the Endocrine mechanisms involved in the aetiology and multi-system outcomes for male and female athletes of all ages.

References

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N.Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Keay N, Fogelman I, Blake G. Bone mineral density in professional female dancers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, vol 31 no2, 143-7, June 1997.

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance. BAEM Spring Conference 2015.

Mountjoy M, Sundgot-Borgen J, Burke L, Carter S, Constantini N, Lebrun C, Meyer N, Sherman R, Steffen K, Budgett R, Ljungqvist A. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the Female Athlete Triad-Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S).Br J Sports Med. 2014 Apr;48(7):491-7.

Margo Mountjoy, IOC Medical Commission Games Group. Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal.

Factors impacting bone development

Optimal body mass index (BMI) coupled with favourable body composition of lean mass and visceral fat is associated with accrual of bone mineral density (BMD) and peak bone mass (PBM) which is vital for setting up BMD within normal ranges for adult life.

New research demonstrates that high BMI exerts a negative effect on the accumulation of BMD and bone architecture in young people. This is something of a surprise. Elevated BMI in young people is known to have a deleterious effect on cardio-metabolic health. However, to date the thinking has been that raised BMI would at least mean that weight bearing exercise would be “weighted” and hence favour accumulation of BMD. Rather it is reported that elevated BMI with increased visceral fat results in impaired bone architecture and BMD. Coupled with decreased lean mass, this means less muscle to exert force on the skeleton to promote BMD accumulation. This distorted body composition impairs attainment of PBM.screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-08-29-56

In my research, deficiency of BMD was found to be irreversible later in adult life, despite normalising body weight, shown for those at the other end of the spectrum of BMI. Those with relative energy deficiency in sports (REDs), formally known as the female athlete triad, demonstrated suboptimal BMD correlated with previous duration of low weight, amenorrhea and delayed onset of menarche, many years on despite return to optimal body weight and normal menstrual status.

Adverse body composition with increased deposition of visceral fat is seen in patients with growth hormone (GH) deficiency, for example post pituitary surgery. Interestingly in these young people with high levels of visceral fat, low levels of GH were recorded. The proposed mechanism of suppression of GH secretion in overweight young people has been discussed. Interestingly high levels of leptin are found in overweight youngsters, compared to low levels found my studies of low weight young dancers with menstrual disturbance. In other words, there appears to be feedback between body weight, body composition and the endocrine system. The other disadvantage of high levels of adipose tissue is that fat soluble vitamin D is “fat locked” and unable to support bone mineral accumulation.

Optimal BMI and body composition are factors associated with accrual of BMD and PBM which is vital for setting up BMD within normal ranges for adult life. In those young people with high BMI and disrupted body composition, dietary measures are needed to reduce body weight. Combined with exercise, including resistance and cardiovascular weight bearing forms, to improve body composition and thus bone architecture and BMD accrual.

References

Optimal health: including female athletes! Part 1 Bones Dr N. Keay, British Journal Sport Medicine

Optimal Health: Especially Young Athletes! Part 3 – Consequences of Relative Energy Deficiency in Sports Dr N. Keay, British Association Sport and Exercise Medicine

Science Daily

EurekaAlert

Paediatric Reports