This study examined the effects of amenorrhea on mucosal immune function and susceptibility to upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) in elite female distance runners. Based on their menstrual cycles during the prior year, 21 elite, collegiate, female distance runners were designated as eumenorrheic runners (ERs; n = 8; 19.9 ± 0.8 years) or amenorrheic runners (ARs; n = 13; 20.0 ± 0.3 years). Resting saliva and blood samples were collected in the morning. The secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) concentration was measured using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The SIgA secretion rate was calculated. Serum 17b-estradiol concentrations and serum progesterone concentrations were measured using radioimmunoassay. Subjects reported the appearance of URTI symptoms (sore throat, headache, runny nose, coughing, or fever), if any, during the prior month. The serum estradiol concentration and salivary SIgA secretion rate were significantly lower for ARs than for ERs (p < 0.05). Serum progesterone concentration was not significantly different between groups. Higher frequencies of headache, runny nose, coughing, and fever were observed in ARs than in ERs. Results show that athletic amenorrhea with low estrogen might accelerate downregulation of mucosal immune function in athletes and enhance susceptibility to infection.
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