The female athlete triad is a health condition in which active women experience three inter-related disorders due to unhealthy body weight and eating habits. In the case of the triad, the word active refers to females who display moderate to high intensity levels of performance. The rate of performance must be high in order to counterbalance the decrease in calorie intake. Females who perform at a high intensity are at risk for the triad since they do not take in enough calories to fulfill the amount expended. The three disorders within the female athlete triad are osteoporosis, disordered eating, and menstrual dysfunction. Not all females experience all three of the conditions, however new data has indicated that even having one or two elements of the triad can greatly increase a female’s long term morbidity and mortality rate (6). Adolescent girls and women are the two categories who are mainly affected by the triad. The causation of this disorder is mainly due to the pressure placed on these females to maintain a slim body image in order to enhance their sports performance. The female athlete triad does not only affect elite athletes, it also affects active women and girls participating in physical activities. If females compete at elite levels and do not consume the adequate amounts of calories, vitamins, and/or water, then they will develop the female athlete triad.
The three conditions of the female athlete triad are caused by low energy availability, irregular menstrual cycles, and low bone mineral density. Disordered eating can be defined as the imbalance between the amount of energy consumed and the amount of energy expended during exercise. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) detects that the two main types of eating disorders included within the disordered eating category are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (3). Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people go for long periods of time without eating because they have a fear of gaining weight. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people binge eat, meaning they consume excessive amounts of food in short increments of time followed by some form of purging. Types of purging include taking laxatives, diuretics and/or diet pills, however the most common form of purging is vomiting. Disordered eating usually occurs when the pressure and stakes are high for weight loss to occur. If pressured by individuals such as family members, friends, and/or coaches, females will undergo unhealthy eating habits and unhealthy over-exercising habits in order to obtain their goal weight. One factor that contributes to unhealthy eating habits is that active women frequently avoid animal products and strictly limit their fat intake which increases susceptibility to disordered eating (7). By not consuming the proper amounts of food, there is not enough energy available for female athletes to perform at their full potential.
Disordered eating can also result in and also enhance amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is a disorder that can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea (delayed menarche) is the absence of menstruation by age sixteen, and secondary amenorrhea is the absence of three or more consecutive menstrual cycles after menarche (3). However, in the case of the female athlete triad, the requirement to be diagnosed is three to six consecutive missed menses (6). The two aspects that disrupt the menstrual cycle of women are energy restriction and high levels of physical activity. Missed menstrual cycles may also be attributed to periods of physical stress while the individual takes in inadequate amounts of energy (7). Around 50% of female athletes experience exercise-induced menstrual dysfunction.
Amenorrhea is also associated with low bone mineral density. Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by a loss of bone mineral density or an inadequate bone...
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