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J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019 May 1;104(5):1449-1458. doi: 10.1210/jc.2018-02143.

Impact of Route of Estrogen Administration on Bone Turnover Markers in Oligoamenorrheic Athletes and Its Mediators.

Author information

Neuroendocrine Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Division of Pediatric Endocrinology, MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Divisions of Sports Medicine and Endocrinology, Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Biostatistics Center, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.



Transdermal, but not oral, estrogen replacement improves bone mineral density (BMD) in athletes with oligoamenorrhea (OA). Our objective was to determine mechanisms that may explain the impact of route of estrogen administration on bone outcomes.


Seventy-three participants with OA between 14 and 25 years old received (i) a 17β-estradiol transdermal patch continuously with cyclic oral micronized progesterone (PATCH), (ii) a combined ethinyl estradiol and desogestrel pill (PILL), or (iii) no estrogen/progesterone (NONE) for 12 months. We evaluated morning fasting levels of a marker of bone formation [N-terminal propeptide of type 1 procollagen (P1NP)], a marker of bone resorption (N-telopeptide), IGF-1, insulinlike growth factor binding protein 3, total testosterone, estradiol, SHBG, sclerostin, preadipocyte factor-1 (Pref-1), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), calcium, 25(OH) vitamin D, and PTH levels at baseline and 12 months.


Groups did not differ for age, weight, exercise activity, or markers of bone formation at baseline. Over 12 months, P1NP decreased the most in the PILL group (P = 0.03) associated with a decrease in IGF-1 levels (r = 0.37; P = 0.003). Sclerostin, Pref-1, and BDNF decreased in the PATCH group over 12 months. PATCH had the greatest increases in estradiol (P ≤ 0.0001), and estradiol increases were associated with increases in bone density.


Transdermal 17β-estradiol given over 12 months does not cause the decrease in IGF-1 observed with oral ethinyl estradiol. It also leads to decreases in sclerostin, Pref-1, and BDNF, which may mediate the beneficial effects of estrogen.

[Available on 2019-11-23]

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