Scientists far from finish line in understanding anemia in female athletes

November 20, 2013

ANN ARBOR--When Kaitlyn Patterson's fatigue progressed to hyperventilating even during slow runs, and then forced her to quit high school distance running for the season, she knew something was very wrong.

Patterson had exercise-induced iron-deficiency anemia, a common, perplexing problem among elite female athletes, especially endurance runners. Later, as a University of Michigan sophomore, she was so interested in the topic that she applied for an undergraduate research position in the lab of Peter Bodary, U-M clinical assistant professor of movement science and health & fitness.

Patterson recently co-wrote a study challenging--and perhaps putting to rest--a popular hypothesis on what causes exercise-induced iron-deficiency anemia.

It's another in a succession of findings from separate research groups that debunk the notion that the iron-regulating hormone hepcidin causes exercise-induced anemia. Conventional science has suggested that rigorous exercise causes hepcidin spikes that result in anemia.

"The U-M finding is significant because we want to provide physicians with the most accurate information regarding exercise-induced anemia," Bodary said.

The downside is that hepcidin isn't the anemia cure-all the scientific community had hoped.

Bodary said that physicians already do a nice job of helping athletes recover from exercise-induced anemia by providing iron supplementation and educating athletes about optimizing iron absorption. The challenge now is understanding what causes anemia in order to prevent it.

The U-M study is the first known to compare hepcidin levels in competitive college female runners against those of non-exercisers, Bodary said. About half the runners in the study had a history of anemia and about 85 percent supplemented with iron.

Researchers wanted to see if hepcidin remained high in resting athletes, which could link elevated hepcidin with exercise-induced iron-deficiency anemia. However, overall hepcidin levels in both groups were about equal, Bodary said.

Will scientists have to return to the starting line? Not necessarily. A physician familiar with Bodary's research contacted him about a female patient with long-term anemia that is hypothesized to have elevated levels of resting hepcidin. Although she didn't exercise regularly, her blood work resembled that of an athlete with the disease, Bodary said.

By analyzing the woman's blood samples, Bodary's lab hopes to learn if high hepcidin drives her anemia. Results could help scientists decode what causes anemia in both the general population of women and in elite athletes.

Meanwhile, Patterson remains healthy since her first struggles with anemia.

"I still run, and have returned to cross country skiing and have taken up cycling," she said. "I'm planning on ski racing this winter and putting together a solid triathlon season. I've been fortunate in that I responded well to iron supplementation, so I've stayed healthy since my original bout with anemia."
-end-
The study appears in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism: http://bit.ly/19zWOfZ

Peter Bodary: http://www.kines.umich.edu/profile/peter-bodary-phd

U-M School of Kinesiology: http://www.kines.umich.edu

University of Michigan

Related Anemia Articles from Brightsurf:

Study explores the association of malaria, HIV with anemia during pregnancy
Pregnant women from sub-Saharan Africa with malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have a higher prevalence of anemia than pregnant women without infections, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

Women with anemia twice as likely to need transfusion after cesarean delivery
Pregnant women with anemia are twice as likely to need blood transfusions after a cesarean delivery, as those without the condition, according to a study being presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2019 annual meeting.

Early maternal anemia tied to intellectual disability, ADHD and autism
The timing of anemia -- a common condition in late pregnancy -- can make a big difference for the developing fetus, according to research at Karolinska Institutet published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Anemia may contribute to the spread of dengue fever
Mosquitoes are more likely to acquire the dengue virus when they feed on blood with low levels of iron, researchers report in the 16 September issue of Nature Microbiology.

No bleeding required: Anemia detection via smartphone
Instead of a blood test, an app uses smartphone photos of someone's fingernails to accurately measure hemoglobin levels.

Malnutrition, anemia among Rohingya children in Bangladesh refugee camp
The pervasiveness of malnutrition and anemia among Rohingya children in a refugee camp in Bangladesh exceeds emergency thresholds.

Anemia: When cells fail to produce enough protein factories
Every day, stem cells in our bone marrow produce billions of new red blood cells.

Anemia discovery offers new targets to treat fatigue in millions
UVA has discovered an unknown biological process that controls the production of vital cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.

Fanconi anemia: Insight from a green plant
Fanconi anemia is a human genetic disorder with severe effects, including an increased risk of cancer and infertility.

New portable blood analyzer could improve anemia detection worldwide
To reduce the burden of anemia, health officials need a better picture of the disease's global impact, an understanding made viable by a portable and affordable way to analyze blood.

Read More: Anemia News and Anemia Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.