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Female Reproductive, Adrenal, and Metabolic Changes during an Antarctic Traverse

GIFFORD, ROBERT M.1,2; O’LEARY, THOMAS3; COBB, RINN4; BLACKADDER-WEINSTEIN, JODIE2; DOUBLE, REBECCA3; WARDLE, SOPHIE L.3; ANDERSON, RICHARD A.5; THAKE, C. DOUG6; HATTERSLEY, JOHN7; IMRAY, CHRISTOPHER H. E.7; WILSON, ADRIAN7; GREEVES, JULIE P.3; REYNOLDS, REBECCA M.1; WOODS, DAVID R.2,8,9,10

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 3 - p 556–567
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001803
APPLIED SCIENCES
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Purpose To explore the effects of the first all-female transantarctic expedition on hormonal axes pertinent to reproductive and metabolic function.

Methods Six females (age, 28–36 yr; body mass index, 24.2 ± 0.97 kg·m−2) hauled 80-kg sledges 1700 km in 61 d. Estimated average energy intake was 20.8 ± 0.1 MJ·d−1 (4970 ± 25 kcal·d−1). Whole and regional body composition was measured by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry 1 and 2 months before and 15 d after, the expedition. Body fat was also estimated by skinfold and bioimpedance immediately before and after the expedition. Basal metabolic and endocrine blood markers and, after 0.25 mg dexamethasone suppression, 1-h 10-μg gonadorelin and 1.0 μg adrenocortiocotrophin-(1–24) tests were completed, 39–38 d preexpedition and 4 to 5 d and 15 to 16 d postexpedition. Cortisol was assessed in hair (monthly average concentrations) and saliva (five-point day curves and two-point diurnal sampling).

Results Average body mass loss was 9.37 ± 2.31 kg (P < 0.0001), comprising fat mass only; total lean mass was maintained. Basal sex steroids, corticosteroids, and metabolic markers were largely unaffected by the expedition except leptin, which decreased during the expedition and recovered after 15 d, a proportionately greater change than body fat. Luteinizing hormone reactivity was suppressed before and during the expedition, but recovered after 15 d, whereas follicle-stimulating hormone did not change during or after the expedition. Cortisol reactivity did not change during or after the expedition. Basal (suppressed) cortisol was 73.25 ± 45.23 mmol·L−1 before, 61.66 ± 33.11 mmol·L−1 5 d postexpedition and 54.43 ± 28.60 mmol·L−1 16 d postexpedition (P = 0.7). Hair cortisol was elevated during the expedition.

Conclusions Maintenance of reproductive and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in women after an extreme physical endeavor, despite energy deficiency, suggests high female biological capacity for extreme endurance exercise.

1University/British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UNITED KINGDOM;

2Research & Clinical Innovation, Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, Lichfield, UNITED KINGDOM;

3Army Personnel Research Capability, Andover, UNITED KINGDOM;

4Performance, Nutrition and Dietetic Consulting, Birmingham, UNITED KINGDOM;

5MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UNITED KINGDOM;

6Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, UNITED KINGDOM;

7Human Metabolic Research Unit, Universities of Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust and University of Warwick, Warwick, UNITED KINGDOM;

8Research Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UNITED KINGDOM;

9Northumbria and Newcastle NHS Trusts, Wansbeck General and Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, UNITED KINGDOM; and

10University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Robert M. Gifford, M.B., Ch.B., University/British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, EH16 4TJ, United Kingdom; E-mail: r.gifford@ed.ac.uk.

R.M.R. and D.R.W. contributed equally as senior author.

Submitted for publication July 2018.

Accepted for publication October 2018.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.acsm-msse.org).

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine