Successful Ageing

As I am discovering, ageing is an inevitable process. However what can you do to keep as healthy as possible in order to get the most out of life?

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If you are a Masters athlete, you will know that moving into these age groups means it is advisable to change training emphasis in order to prevent injury and compete successfully. As discussed at the recent conference Royal Society of Medicine on Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics, during the session on “The Ageing Athlete”, older athletes need a longer dynamic warm up with controlled mobilisation and muscle activation, together with strength and conditioning sessions to prevent injury. Moving into next age group every five years gives the opportunity to assess and modify training accordingly.

Childhood development has an impact on long term adult health. Essentially the most rapid changes and potential peaks attained during childhood and adolescence reflect optimal physical and cognitive functioning in later life. The evidence from population cohort studies was presented by Professor Diana Kuh, director of MRC Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing, at the recent conference at the Royal Society of Medicine. Up to 66% of the decline in functional ability in ageing adults is related to childhood development. In the case of pubertal timing, Professor Kuh described that delay causes 20% reduction of volumetric trabecular bone accrual. In my 3 year longitudinal study of 87 pre and post pubertal girls, high levels of training delayed menarche and blunted attainment of peak bone mass (PBM). Conversely an optimal level of training did not delay menarche and improved bone mineral density compared to age marched sedentary controls. A similar long term effect is seen in older female athletes who have experienced amenorrhoea of more than 6 months duration. Even after retirement and resumption of menses pre-menopause, irreversible loss of bone mineral density (BMD) is seen. Professor Kuh argued for specific and personalised recommendations to individuals to support successful ageing.

From a personalised medical perspective, what about hormonal changes associated with ageing? Although in men testosterone levels decline with age, nevertheless the change is more dramatic in women at menopause where the ovaries stop producing oestrogen and progesterone. This results in increased risk after the menopause of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke, together with other vasomotor symptoms and mood changes. With increased life expectancy comes an increasing number of women with menopausal symptoms and health issues which can negatively impact on quality of life. What about hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? HRT improves menopausal symptoms and reduces the risk of post menopausal long term health problems, provided HRT is started within ten years after the menopause. After this window of opportunity replacement oestrogen can actually accelerate cell damage. As with any medical treatment there will be those for whom HRT is contra-indicated. Otherwise the risk:benefit ratio for each individual has to be weighed up so that women can arrive at an informed decision. Regarding the risk of breast cancer, this is increased by 4 cases per 1,000 women aged 50-59 years on combined HRT. This compares to an additional 24 cases in women who have body mass index (BMI)>30 and are not on HRT. This underlines the important of lifestyle which is crucial in all areas of preventative medicine.

What type of HRT has the most favourable risk:benefit ratio? Oral preparations undergo first pass metabolism in the liver, so other routes of delivery such as transdermal may be preferred. There is also an argument that hormones with identical molecular structure are preferable to bio-similar hormones. What functional effect could a slight difference in sex steroid structure have? For example no methyl group and a side chain with hydroxyl group (C-OH) rather than a carbonyl group (C=O)? That is the difference between oestradiol and  testosterone.

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Testosterone
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Oestradiol

In the case of hormones with identical molecular structure to those produced endogenously, there are no potential unwanted side effects or immunogenic issues as the molecule is identical to that produced by the body. Although the oestradiol component in most HRT preparations in the UK has an identical molecular structure to endogenous oestradiol, there is only one licensed micronised progesterone preparation that is has an identical molecular structure. Synthetic, bio-similar progestins have additional glucocorticoid and androgenic effects compared to molecular identical progesterone which exerts a mild anti-mineralocorticoid (diuretic) effect.

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Progesterone
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Norethisterone (synthetic progestin)

With an increasing ageing population and increase in life expectancy, it is important to support successful ageing and quality of life with a personalised and specific approach.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

Conference Royal Society of Medicine 17/1/17 “Sports Injuries and Sports Orthopaedics” Session on “The Ageing Athlete”

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

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance Dr N. Keay, British Journal of Sport Medicine 22/2/17

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

Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy course. Marion Gluck Training Academy 27/1/17

The British Menopause Society

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 

From population based norms to personalised medicine: Health, Fitness, Sports Performance

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“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. World Health Organisation 1948

There has been criticism of this definition, arguing that the word “complete” has opened the door to today’s more medicalised society. However, this trend coincides with increased volume of “patients” seeking optimal health, together with doctors who have a more extensive repertoire of medical interventions at their disposal. In a time-pressed society there is less opportunity for either patient or doctor to explore longer term adaptive measures and prevention strategies, which facilitate taking responsibility for your health. Fortunately Sport and Exercise Medicine became a recognised medical specialty in the UK in 2006. This encompasses population-based strategies for disease prevention outlined in the global initiative founded in 2007 “Exercise is Medicine“.

What has this got to do with sports performance? There are subgroups within the population, such as athletes already taking plenty of exercise. Elite athletes differ from the general population, due to superior adaptation processes to exercise, probably with a genetic component. So are the same “normal” population-based ranges of quantified medical parameters applicable?

This is precisely the issue that arose when I was on the international medical research team investigating the development of a dope test for growth hormone (GH). Crucially, exercise is one of the major stimuli for growth hormone release from the anterior pituitary. So before we could even start investigating potential downstream markers of exogenous GH abuse, the “normal” range for elite athletes had to be established.

In a similar way, are the “normal” ranges for other hormones applicable to athletes? In a fascinating lecture delivered by Dr Kristien Boelaert, Consultant Endocrinologist, it was explained that the distribution for thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is affected by multiple factors, including illness, age and exercise status. So “normal” for the general population is not necessarily normal for specific subgroups.

The other issue, especially with the Endocrine system is that hormones act on a variety of tissues and so produce a variety of multi-system network effects with interactions and control feedback loops. Therefore symptoms of malfunction/maladaptation and subclinical conditions can be non specific. From a doctor’s perspective this makes Endocrinology fascinating detective work, but challenging when dealing with subgroups in the population who require a more intensive work-up and individualised approach.

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The vast majority of research studies involve exclusively male athletes, leaving female athletes under-represented (a recent study on heat adaptation in female athletes being a notable exception). Some areas of research, including my own, have been directed more towards female athletes in the case of female athlete triad, or Relative Energy Deficiency in sports (REDs). REDs is a more appropriate term as it really sums up the important points: male and female can both be affected and therefore should both be studied. There are subgroups within the general population who may not fit the “normal” range: REDs is not necessarily a clinically defined eating disorder from lecture by Professor J. Sundgot-Borgen (IOC working group on female athlete triad and IOC working group on body composition, health and performance).

No medical/physiological/metabolic parameter can be considered in isolation: in the case of REDs, it is not menstrual disturbance and bone health that are affected in isolation. For example, there is currently great debate about whether a low carbohydrate/high fat diet (ketogenic diet) can mobilise fat oxidation and potentially be a training strategy to enhance performance. Needless to say that a recent study contained no female athletes. Given that many female endurance athletes are already lean, potentially driving fat metabolism through diet manipulation may have an impact on Endocrine function, optimal health and hence sport performance. I understand that a forthcoming study will include female athletes.

So a continuum or distinct subgroups in the population? Clearly general medical principles apply to all, with a spectrum from optimal functioning, subclinical conditions through to recognised disease state. We now have evidence of distinct differences between subgroups in the population and even within these subgroups such as male and female athletes. We are moving into a world of personalised medicine, where recommendations for optimal health are tailored for individuals within specific subgroups.

For further discussion on Endocrine and Metabolic aspects of SEM come to the BASEM annual conference 22/3/18: Health, Hormones and Human Performance

References

How should we define health?

Nobody is average but what to do about it? The challenge of individualized disease prevention based on genomics

Exercise is Medicine

Enhancing Sport Performance: part 1

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.

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.

Cuneo R, Wallace J, Keay N. Use of bone markers to detect growth hormone abuse in sport. Proceedings of Annual Scientific Meeting, Endocrine Society of Australia. August 1998, vol 41, p55.

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

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

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

Relative Energy Deficiency in sport (REDs) Lecture by Professor Jorum Sundgot-Borgen, BAEM Spring Conference 2015 on the Female Athlete

Effect of adaptive responses to heat exposure on exercise performance

Low Carbohydrate, High Fat diet impairs exercise economy and negates the performance benefit from intensified training in elite race walkers