We Need More Women In Sports Medicine Trials, Say Scientists – BuzzFeed News

Scientists from the UK and US are calling for an end to
the exclusion of women from sports and exercise research

In an
editorial published in the British Journal of Sports
on Tuesday, the researchers say “the complexities
of the menstrual cycle are considered major barriers to the
inclusion of women in clinical trials” and that as a result our
knowledge of how women’s periods affect their training is
severely lacking.

The authors point to a 2014
paper published in the European Journal of Sports
that reviewed 1,382 sports and exercise medicine
studies and found that out of over 6 million total
participants, only 39% were women.

What’s more, they say that when women are included in
clinical trials, researchers tend to test them only in an early
stage of their cycle, when hormones levels are at their lowest,
perpetuating the lack of knowledge about how those hormones
affect performance.

“It’s easier to test men, and if you are going to test women,
it’s easier to either ignore the effects of the menstrual cycle
or to test them in one specific phase,” the lead author of the
editorial, Georgie Bruinvels, a PhD candidate at University
College London, told BuzzFeed News.

View this image ›

How hormone levels typically
vary throughout a 28-day menstrual cycle. FSH stands for
“follicle-stimulating hormone” and LH for “luteinising
hormone”, for those who don’t remember GCSE biology.

ID: 8807721

Historically, women have been left out of clinical trials
because researchers thought men and women would respond in the
same way, and there were also worries about “potentially
damaging unborn fetuses”, the editorial said.

This is starting to change, Bruinvels said, but many studies
that are being done in women aren’t taking into account the
women’s menstrual cycles.

“The key thing is that that while more research is being done
in women than was being done in the past, it’s still ignoring
the menstrual cycle, so there’s still a massive gap of
understanding around what actually happens at all phases of the
menstrual cycle. It’s the same for people on the oral
contraceptive – we don’t know the effects of that either,” she
told BuzzFeed News.

“I just don’t even really trust most studies that are done in
women that aren’t controlling for the menstrual cycle, because
we simply don’t know enough about it.”

a paper published in the journal PLOS One earlier
this year, Bruinvels and her colleagues reported that in a
survey of 1,000 women who took part in the 2015 London
Marathon, just under a third noticed that their period had a
negative impact on their training. A different survey detailed
in the same paper found that out of almost 800 people who
filled out an online questionnaire about menstruation and
exercise, just over half said their menstrual cycle had
affected their training or performance.

One possible reason for this, the researchers say, is iron
deficiency – although without more research we won’t know for
sure. “Nobody knows the whys and hows of how the menstrual
cycle affects performance,” said Bruinvels. “It’s a taboo
subject and nobody wants to talk about it.

“We need to start addressing this, we need to understand what
the hell is going on. And once we understand that, we need to
ask what interventions we can put into place – for example,
whether diet should vary throughout the cycle. If we can
actually do that it could be life-changing for women – for
female athletes but also for women across the board.”

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