The Female Athlete Triad


By: Nikki Nies

Life consists of the constant struggle to maintain balance in life.  Everything from balancing work, daily chores and sleep to balancing relationships with friends and families.  There also needs to be a constant balance between healthy activities.  Often times, athletes are told by coaches or are self-motivated to lose weight for the hopes of better performance.  Not to generalize, but female athlete triad is sometimes found in cross country running, gymnastics, and figure skating as these sports require “leaner” body compositions.

While regular exercise is necessary to maintain health, the consequences of overexercising should not be discounted.  With extreme exercise regimes, there is a higher risk of doing more harm than good.  Such consequences can lead to a combination of three conditions: disordered eating, osteoporosis and amenorrhea, which collectively is called the female athlete triad.  One does not need to have all three conditions occurring simultaneously for alarm.

  1. Disordered Eating: can range from bulimia to the restriction to certain food groups to calcium-supplements-benefits-and-side-effectslimiting daily calorie intake
  2. Osteoporosis: can be caused by low calcium intake and low estrogen levels; defined as the weakening of the bones due to improper bone formation or loss of bone density; can lead to stress fractures or injury
  3. Amenorrhea: absence of menstruation for 3 or more consecutive months;  symptoms: hair loss, headache, vision change, excess facial hair and/or milky nipple discharge; can be caused by excessive exercise without enough calories consumed to compensate for calories expended

The Female Athlete Triad may also occur in conjunction with an eating disorder.  It’s imperative if a friend, teammate, child or sibling is displaying the following symptoms, to not disregard them:

  • Brittle hair or nails
  • Chest pain and/or heart irregularities
  • Sensitivity to cold
  •  Using laxatives
  • Dental cavities–tooth enamel may be worn away due to vomiting
  • Continues with dieting even with weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food and weight

To definitively diagnose someone with athlete triad one has to be properly screened through a list of Q&A and screenings by a physician.

NPPA_100111_pg23_table2_lgWith hectic schedules, it can be easy to overlook possible symptoms of female athlete triad, but it’s critical to be aware of symptoms.  Working with a therapist, physician and dietitian may be helpful for those diagnosed with Female Athlete Triad.

If this information could help a loved one, please pass on in a kindly manner.  Thank you. 

Photo Credit: AlgaeCal 


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