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N Engl J Med. 1990 Nov 1;323(18):1221-7.

Spinal bone loss and ovulatory disturbances.

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Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.

Erratum in

  • N Engl J Med 1993 Jun 10;328(23):1724.



Osteoporosis develops in women with estrogen deficiency and amenorrhea who lose bone at an accelerated rate. It is not known to what extent bone loss differs between ovulatory women with regular menstrual cycles who are training intensely and those who are sedentary.


We measured the density of cancellous spinal bone from the 12th thoracic vertebra to the 3rd lumbar vertebra by quantitative computed tomography on two occasions one year apart in 66 premenopausal women 21 to 42 years of age. All the women had two consecutive ovulatory cycles immediately before entering the study. Twenty-one women were training for a marathon, 22 ran regularly but less intensively, and 23 had normal levels of activity. The lengths of the women's menstrual cycles and luteal phases, diet, exercise levels, and hormonal levels were also determined. We defined ovulatory disturbances as anovulatory cycles and cycles with short luteal phases.


The mean (+/- SD) spinal bone density in the 66 women decreased 3.0 +/- 4.8 mg per cubic centimeter per year (2.0 percent per year) (P less than 0.001). Amenorrhea did not develop in any woman during the year of observation (only 2.7 percent of the cycles were greater than 36 days long). Ovulatory disturbances occurred in 29 percent of all cycles, however. Bone loss was strongly associated with these disturbances (r = 0.54, 24 percent of the variance). The 13 women who had anovulatory cycles lost bone mineral at a rate of 6.4 +/- 3.8 mg per cubic centimeter per year (4.2 percent per year). The women training for a marathon had menstrual cycles similar to those of the women in the other two groups.


Decreases in spinal bone density among women with differing exercise habits correlated with asymptomatic disturbances of ovulation (without amenorrhea) and not with physical activity.

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