Increased pulsatility, process irregularity, and nocturnal trough concentrations of growth hormone in amenorrheic compared to eumenorrheic athletes

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Mar;86(3):1013-9. doi: 10.1210/jcem.86.3.7361.


Amenorrheic athletes exhibit a spectrum of neuroendocrine disturbances, including alterations in the GH-insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) axis. Whether these changes are due to exercise or amenorrhea is incompletely characterized. The present study investigates spontaneous (overnight) and exercise-stimulated GH secretion and associated IGF-binding proteins (IGFBPs) in amenorrheic (AA; n = 5), and eumenorrheic athletes ( n = 5) matched for age, percent body fat (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry), training history, and maximal oxygen consumption. Each volunteer participated in two hospital admissions consisting of a 50-min submaximal exercise bout (70% maximal oxygen consumption) and an 8-h nocturnal sampling period. Deconvolution analysis of serum GH concentration time series revealed increases in the half-life of GH (60%) and the number of secretory bursts (85%) as well as a decrease in their half-duration (50%) and the mass of GH secreted per pulse (300%) in the AA cohort. Time occupancy at elevated trough GH concentrations was significantly increased, and GH pulsatility (approximate entropy) was more irregular in the AA group. During exercise, AA exhibited a reversal of the normal relationship between IGF-I and GH, and a 4- to 5-fold blunting of stimulated peak and integrated GH secretion. Fasting levels of plasma IGF-I, IGFBP-3, and IGFBP-1 appeared to be unaffected by menstrual status. In ensemble, this phenotype of GH release in amenorrheic athletes suggests disrupted neuroregulation of episodic GH secretion, possibly reflecting decreased somatostinergic inhibition basally, and reduced GHRH output in response to exercise compared with eumenorrheic athletes. Accordingly, we postulate that the amenorrheic state, beyond the exercise experience per se, alters the neuroendocrine control of GH output in amenorrheic athletes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amenorrhea / blood*
  • Amenorrhea / etiology
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood*
  • Humans
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1 / blood
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3 / blood
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / analysis
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Periodicity*
  • Sports*


  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 3
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I