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Sports Med. 1990 Oct;10(4):218-35.

Physical exercise and menstrual cycle alterations. What are the mechanisms?

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Department of Physiology, University of Limburg, Maastricht, The Netherlands.


The prevalence of menstrual cycle alterations in athletes is considerably higher than in sedentary controls. There appears to be a multicausal aetiology, which makes it extremely difficult to dissociate the effects of physical exercise on the menstrual cycle from the other predisposing factors. From cross-sectional studies it appeared that physical training eventually might lead to shortening of the luteal phase and secondary amenorrhoea. Prospective studies in both trained and previously untrained women have shown that the amount and/or the intensity of exercise has to exceed a certain limit in order to elicit this phenomenon. We hypothesise, therefore, that apart from a certain predisposition, athletes with a training-induced altered menstrual cycle are overreached (short term overtraining, which is reversible in days to weeks after training reduction). Menstrual cycle alterations are most likely caused by subtle changes in the episodic secretion pattern of luteinising hormone (LH) as have been found in sedentary women with hypothalamic amenorrhoea as well as in athletes after very demanding training. The altered LH secretion then, might be caused by an increased corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) secretion which inhibits the gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) release. In addition, increased CRH tone will lead to increased beta-endorphin levels which will also inhibit the GnRH signaller. Finally, the continuous activation of the adrenals will result in a higher catecholamine production, which may be converted to catecholestrogens. These compounds are known to be potent inhibitors of GnRH secretion. In conclusion, menstrual cycle alterations are likely to occur after very demanding training, which causes an increase secretion of antireproductive hormones. These hormones can inhibit the normal pulsatile secretion pattern of the gonadotrophins.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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