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Teen Girls' Health

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The Female Athlete Triad

What Are Symptoms of the Female Athlete Triad?

The female athlete triad is a combination of three conditions. Each condition has symptoms to alert you that a problem exists:

1. Energy Imbalance

Characterized by morbid fear of weight gain, certain eating disorders lead to severe restriction of food intake. This results in extreme weight loss or even starvation. Most female athletes are concerned about their body weight and shape, and may follow a strict diet. Avoiding key nutrients could lead to inadequate amounts of protein, iron, calcium, and zinc in the diet.

Women who diet excessively often eliminate dairy products. Dairy products are a primary source of calcium, which is vital for bone strength. Some studies say that less than 25% of adolescent girls get the calcium necessary each day through foods or supplements. This deficit comes at a critical time in the teen's life -- when girls should be building their bone mass to the highest levels.

2. Irregular Menstrual Periods

Amenorrhea (the absence of a period) and other menstrual irregularities increase the risk of bone fractures. With amenorrhea, teenaged girls experience significant reductions in estradiol, the primary form of the female hormone estrogen.

A young female athlete who appears to be in top physical condition often has the highest risk of low bone density (osteoporosis) and fracture, especially if she experiences disordered eating and loss of menstrual periods.

Low body weight alone is not enough to explain the loss of menstrual periods. But it seems that amenorrhea happens when you take in fewer calories, so you're getting too little nutrition for the amount of exercise you're doing.

Your weight influences your bone density. For example, a woman who weighs less than 127 pounds is 10 times more likely to have lower bone density than a woman who weighs 150 pounds or more. Your risk of bone loss increases when you have a low percentage of body fat.

3. Osteoporosis and Risk of Broken Bones

Teen girls with female athlete triad are at risk for early broken bones. In fact, a broken bone may be the sign that first alerts the doctor there is a problem. Up to 30% of ballet dancers suffer from repeated stress fractures, which points to problems with not getting enough bone minerals and low body weight.

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