The female athlete triad. It may sound like an Olympic event, but it’s the connection of menstrual problems, low energy and decreased bone density. It’s a rather common problem among young women who play sports.
“Energy availability has a huge impact on your body,” said Julie Kerr, MD, who treats sports medicine patients at Akron Children’s and the new Medina office. “Without fueling the body properly, low energy can result in girls losing their menstrual periods and reducing their bone density.”
Akron Children’s takes a team approach in treating patients with the triad. “The first thing we do is take a diet history,” Dr. Kerr shared. “Female athletes may restrict food intake – such as avoiding dairy or cutting carbs – or they may follow an extreme diet like eating the exact same foods every day. A dietitian helps the athlete set realistic, healthy nutritional goals. A physician monitors the athlete’s physical health and regulates the amount of athletic activity. If needed, a psychologist helps the girls work through body image issues that may be leading toward disordered eating.”
In addition to the healthcare experts, the athlete’s support team plays a critical role in recovering from the triad.
Pay attention to how often your daughter eats and what foods she eats. “As often as you can, eat together as a family,” Dr. Kerr suggested. “It’s not only a good way to gauge your daughter’s eating habits, but it helps your family reconnect after a stressful day.”
Many coaches don’t know their female athletes are having issues. “Poor athletic performance may not be due only to physical or injury limitations,’” Dr. Kerr said. “It’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Let the girls know you care about both their physical and emotional well-being.”
“Listen to your body. It’s a great mechanism for telling you when something is wrong,” Dr. Kerr explained. “If you’re in pain, you lack energy or your athletic performance has dropped off, go see your doctor.”
When it comes to treating young female athletes with the triad, the goals are to restore the regular menstrual cycle and boost bone density. “If a girl misses just 4 periods,” Dr. Kerr said, “it will be hard for her to regain bone density and achieve peak levels for long-term health.”