GUEST: Dr. Richard Burden, English Institute of Sport, UK
On Wednesday, July 14, 2021 we hosted Finding The ‘I’ in Team. Her menstrual cycle is part of the daily life of each woman. It influences her physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Every girl, growing up, has to develop her very own body wisdom, learn how she feels and reacts during different phases of her cycle, and how to best deal with mood swings and those days where she does not feel at the top of her game.
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Watch Our Discussion on Finding the 'I' in Team: A healthy menstrual cycle is vital for female athletes
Laboratory studies on hormone profiles cannot be easily applied to the individual athlete, and the laboratory and real-world settings differ widely.
Hormonix, developed by the English Institute for Sport in partnership with Mint Diagnostics, gives female athletes rapid access to accurate information on their hormone levels. It enables a much greater understanding of how the female menstrual cycle may influence health and performance.
In this webinar, Dr. Richard Burden, Co-Lead of Female Athlete Health & Performance at the English Institute of Sport, provided us with insights about a new technology the EIS has been using to study individual athletes menstrual cycles.
You can be an elite athlete + be healthy + have a normal menstural cycle
There are still many people and female athletes who think you cannot be successful in sport and have normal menstrual function. As a female athlete, it is essential to have a healthy menstrual cycle if you want to have a long, successful athletic career and to also protect your long-term health beyond competitive sport. The menstrual cycle should be considered a vital sign in women. Having a healthy cycle, meaning ovulation, a period, fluctuating hormones, and symptoms, which are mild and manageable, is a critical indicator of your health.
What is Hormonix?
- A still very new technology to measure female hormones in saliva.
- It aims to overcome the need for drawing blood to measure hormones.
- Athletes receive a kit with all they need to collect a saliva sample.
- An easy-to-use app reminds athletes to collect a sample at a specific time.
- The samples can be stored in a freezer before they are sent to the laboratory.
- Athletes also enter their symptoms in the app and can see the lab results.
The EIS has used the platform in a number of elite athletes so far. Dr. Burden’s philosophy is that any measure is only beneficial when it has a tangible practical impact on athletes.
Female athletes’ individual hormone profiles and menstrual cycles
- As sports scientists and physicians, we need to think beyond performance and fitness to compete in our athletes and consider their long-term health goals.
- Understanding their cycle gives athletes the evidence and tools to make better choices about their health, training, diet, recovery, and career.
- Here is an example for this: An athlete experienced symptoms she felt were related to her cycle. She perceived them to have a negative impact on her performance. Thus, she monitored three menstrual cycles while recording her training load and subjective wellness. Her profile showed healthy hormone fluctuations and cycle lengths even with high training volumes. Furthermore, her symptoms were related to the phase of her cycle. This allowed the EIS team to develop strategies to reduce symptomatic cycles and gave her the confidence that she was healthy and able to compete at her best.
- Another important application of individual hormone profiles is the Relative Energy Deficit in Sport (RED-S) syndrome where athletes do not get enough energy from their diet to fuel their training. In female athletes, their menstrual cycle becomes irregular and periods may stop altogether.
Questions and Answers
How did your athletes react when you started addressing this topic? There was a recent study in Swedish athletes who said that they did not like to talk about their cycle because it is a taboo, private, uncomfortable topic. And how easy is it to engage the entourage?
Laboratory studies are very difficult to perform and interpret. How can we create synergies between these individual hormone profiles and standardized research?
We need these individual hormone profiles as they can teach us so much about the differences between cycles in a woman and between women. We found that the typical monthly curves of oestrogen that we know from textbooks are actually hardly ever seen in an individual.
Given that not every female athlete will have access to a programme like this anytime soon, do you expect to gain insights in this project that can help other athletes going forward?
Dr. Burden believes that this technology will eventually not only improve female athletes’ health but women’s health overall. With the broader application, it will obviously also become more accessible and cost-effective.
Is Hormonix available to athletes worldwide and at what cost?
The platform is still at the testing stage and therefore not widely available and commercialized. Dr. Burden invites collaboration with other sports scientists, physiologists, physicians, and organizations. Mint Diagnostics offers services tailored to an organization’s needs.
English Institute of Sport
Please access here: https://www.eis2win.co.uk/
Mind Diagnostics developed Hormonix together with Dr. Richard burden from the EIS.
My story of RED-S
Watch Soren’s story of how RED-S ended her career as an elite cross-county mountain biker.
About Doctor Richard Burden
Dr. Richard Burden is the Co-Lead of Female Athlete Health & Performance at the English Institute of Sport, where he is responsible for the science, medicine, and technology support to their elite athletes. Richard is an applied physiologist and has worked with some of England’s leading athletes for more than 15 years. Next to his work at the EIS, Richard is a Senior Lecturer at St Mary’s University in London, a visiting fellow at Loughborough University, a Senior Consultant Editor for the Experimental Physiology journal, and a consultant in sport technology.