FEMALE MENOPAUSE and the knowledge gap
As far as we know, there hasn’t been one report of a woman having to stop while jogging to pick up her reproductive organs even though, as 49-year-old physician Julie Curwin observes, “Women only a bit older than I am remember when they were young being told by doctors not to run because their uterus might fall out.”
But there are still many other knowledge gaps for female athletes as they age. Curwin, an itu world agegroup triathlon champion who lives in Sydney, N. S. explains: “The whole idea of the competitive post-menopausal female athlete is relatively new, and the cohort of women approaching and passing through menopause is really the first large group of serious lifelong endurance athletes to do so.”
How do the potential mood swings, depression, hot flashes, night sweats, bone density loss and weight gain of menopause affect high-performance athletes? What about pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapy ( hrt)? At the highest levels of competition, some forms of hrt would not be allowed unless an athlete applied for a therapeutic use exemption ( tue), which might be hard to get. “Each case is very individual,” explains Danielle Côté, a spokesperson for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
However, female athletes wondering about the pros and cons of hrt find there’s no clinical research evaluating whether hrt influences an elite menopausal athlete’s performance, and little research on menopausal female athletes at all.
This lack of research isn’t because scientific researchers don’t care, explains Kealey. Studies on menopause and sport would be expensive and require a critical mass of female athlete subjects followed over a number of years to properly measure outcomes.
So a critical mass of older women athletes needs to assert itself before important questions relating to physiology and performance are seriously explored. Bev Watson, 60, shattered the Ironman world record for her age group by 27 minutes last year in a time of 11:50. Watson, of Priddis, Alta., explains: “There is a crest of a wave coming. As I get older, the women in the age groups behind me are faster, and there are many more of them.”
Watson races competitively all over the world in triathlon, Spartan and other endurance races. She figured out on her own how to deal with the challenges of menopause, but wishes there was a way to more formally share experiences and pool knowledge. “Triathletes are very open about their bodies and I have a few teammates I can chat with. But still, I would love to talk to more elite women athletes about the aging process. If there was a way we could all communicate, it would be amazing.”
“The cohort of women approaching and passing through menopause is really the first large group of serious lifelong endurance athletes to do so” –49-year-old physician Julie Curwin