Friday, November 10th 2017

Season 2 Episode 14: Undernourished periods

Excerpt: We learn about the female athlete triad, and how menstrual disturbances have more to do with not eating enough and adhering to cultural conceptions of beauty than overexercising.

Summary: Last year, Vox ran a piece about exercise and periods that made my blood boil, not least of all because it misrepresented the research of someone I really respect. It took a while to coordinate our schedules, but I was very pleased to finally get to interview Dr. Mary Jane De Souza. Dr. Mary Jane De Souza is one of the best researchers in the world on the topic of the female athlete triad – that mix of low energy availability, low bone mineral density, and menstrual disturbance that was once believed to be inevitable for exercising women. I was so pleased to have the chance to pick her brain about food, exercise, and periods. We now know that the cause of these menstrual disturbances is probably more about undereating than overexercising. So if you lose your period, it’s not your weak lady constitution, it’s more likely you haven’t fueled your exercise with enough food.

Many thanks to Dr. Mary Jane De Souza, professor of kinesiology and physiology at Penn State. Stay tuned for next week when we continue the conversation around food, exercise, and periods with Intuitive Eating coach Lu Uhrich.

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  1. Isabel said:

    Was undernourishment the reason girls in the 1800s didn’t have menarche until about 16?

  2. Dr. Kate Clancy said:

    Sort of, yes. The issue is one of energy balance and energy availability in childhood. Folks in the 1800s likely worked very hard starting well before puberty and the seasonal nature of their work and food availability probably meant they were, at least at times, underfed compared to modern folks.

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