How Did a Hike Across Antarctica Impact Female Reproductive Function?
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:
There is limited data on the reproductive biologic consequences of extremely strenuous activity in women
Gifford et al. (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2018) sought to determine the effects of the first all-female transantarctic expedition on hormonal axes, including hypothalamic pituitary gonad (HPG) axis and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis
First all-female team to complete an unassisted Antarctic traverse using only their own muscle power
80kg sledges (vehicles on runners) | 1700km | Over 61 days | up to 2950m elevation
Estimated average energy intake was 20.8 +/- 0.103 MJ/day
Whole and regional body composition was measured by DXA
Pre- expedition: At one month and two months
Post-expedition: Two months and two months
Body fat was estimated by skinfold and bioimpedance
Metabolic and endocrine blood markers
Tested to reflect response to physiologic levels of stimulation (rather than tests used to rule out endocrine insufficiency)
Cortisol was assessed in
Hair (monthly average concentrations)
Saliva (5-point day curves and two-point diurnal sampling)
6 females participated
Age: 28-36 years
Average body mass loss: 9.37 ±2.31 kg
Fat mass only
Total lean mass was maintained
Basal sex steroids, corticosteroids and metabolic markers were largely unaffected
Leptin decreased during the expedition and recovered after 15 days, a proportionately greater change than body fat
LH suppressed prior to and during the expedition, but recovered after 15 days
FSH did not change during or after the expedition
Reactivity did not change during or after the expedition
Basal (suppressed) cortisol did not change significantly during or after the expedition
Hair cortisol was elevated during the expedition
Salivary cortisol throughout the day was blunted but recovered by day 10 following the expedition
Female reproductive and endocrine pathways remained stable during extreme endurance exercise
While limited by sample size, the authors state
Our data demonstrate HPG and HPA axis resilience during extreme exertion despite significant fat loss.
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