What every woman athlete should know

Q:I am extremely active in sports and weightlifting. My problem? I stopped menstruating four months ago. A runner friend of mine told me that birth control can actually get my period back on track. Is this true, and what exactly should I do?

A: Women athletes, particularly long-distance runners, swimmers and ballet dancers, often lose their menstrual periods when their body fat percentage gets very low. Many of them are happy about this development, and truthfully, there is nothing magical about getting a period. The more important problem with this condition is that these young women are not making estrogen, which is important for keeping bones from developing osteoporosis; all the exercise in the world cannot totally protect you from loss of bone.

For these young women, I recommend getting estrogen in some form. Birth control pills are an excellent way to replace estrogen in young women. They contain not only estrogen, but also progesterone, which will produce nice regular periods. They also provide contraception, which is important because you never know when the ovaries might wake up, pop out an egg and let a pregnancy occur (I have seen this happen on several occasions).

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