• May 25, 2018
Director of the Urban Herbalist, Khalid Ghanima, says no matter what supplements he gives to girls, first of all they must remove the cause of the stress on their bodies. Photo: Silke Weil.
Obsessive behaviour and extreme exercising is leading young women to under-eat their way to infertility, says a leading Auckland expert.
Erratic eating and setting challenging lifestyle targets is common in women which can cause long-term consequences for their health and loss of menstrual periods, says Dr Stella Milsom, senior reproductive endocrinologist at National Women's Health.
“Even though there is no hard data in females presenting irregular or absent periods the frequency now seems to be as common as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS),” she says.
That loss, as known as hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), results from one or more of the following: being relatively underweight, restricted nutrition (deliberate or unintentional), stress, an imbalance of energy use which is not compensated for by eating, or genetic factors.
“Previously it would have been 2-3 cases of PCOS for one of HA. Today, in my clinic, one quarter of consultations were for HA.”
Pharmacist, holistic health specialist and director of the Urban Herbalist, Khalid Ghanima, says the issue is so common he hears about it every week.
“If you stress yourself out, either emotionally or physically, your body will shut down its reproductive system because it’s not concerned with reproduction.
“It’s not causing just hormonal issues but gut issues and immune issues. You’re releasing a lot of cortisol so it will actually also lower your immunity.”
Rosa Flanagan, a 22-year-old elite middle-distance runner, only began menstruating in November last year, after years of training, excessively exercising and under-eating to further her running career.
“I had my first international race in year 11, we travelled to Malta and leading up to that big event my mindset kind of changed,” says Ms Flanagan, who has represented New Zealand numerous times throughout her running career.
“I felt because I was going to an international event I had to train more, focus more, lose weight and it turned into a vicious cycle. Training more, eating less, and trying to get leaner and faster.”
It wasn’t until 5 years of international competing, when she realised she was severely underweight. After visiting an endocrinologist she learned she needed to take her health more seriously than her performance.
“I looked at myself and was like ‘man I’m very underweight, I’ve got a very bad life balance’.”
She says other young female athletes need to understand the importance of making your own health and wellbeing a priority above your athletic performance.
“Nourishing your body in the right way and not eliminating anything or removing yourself from anything, including social things because you want to do well in sport, a good life balance will help.
“First of all, you’ve got to remove the cause of the stress. You need to take it easy, active recovery as well as meditation, also yoga, massages, that kind of thing,” she says.
Dr Milson says there is room for plenty more research.
“We don’t know the prevalence in NZ, contributing factors, associations with different types of sports, activities, even types of schooling.
“It is common in girls who are high achievers at single sex schools; also, in athletes particularly cyclists, middle or long distance runners, gymnasts and ballet dancers.”