Female hyperandrogenism and elite sport

in Endocrine Connections

Correspondence: Angelica Linden Hirschberg, Email: angelica.linden-hirschberg@sll.se

Emerging evidence indicates that testosterone, which can increase muscle mass and strength, stimulate erythropoiesis, and promote competitive behaviour, enhances the physical performance of women. Indeed, levels of testosterone within the normal female range are related to muscle mass and athletic performance in female athletes. Furthermore, among these athletes the prevalence of hyperandrogenic conditions, including both polycystic ovary syndrome and rare Differences/Disorders of Sex Development (DSD), which may greatly increase testosterone production, are elevated. Thus, if the androgen receptors of an individual with XY DSD are functional, her muscle mass will develop like that of a man. These findings have led to the proposal that essential hyperandrogenism is beneficial for athletic performance and plays a role in the choice by women to compete in athletic activities. Moreover, a recent randomized controlled trial demonstrated a significant increase in the lean mass and aerobic performance by young exercising women when their testosterone levels were enhanced moderately. Circulating testosterone is considered the strongest factor to explain the male advantage in sport performance, ranging between 10-20 percent. It appears to be unfair to allow female athletes with endogenous testosterone levels in the male range (i.e., 10-20 times higher than normal) to compete against those with normal female androgen levels. In 2012, this consideration led international organisations to establish eligibility regulations for the female classification in order to ensure fair and meaningful competition, but the regulations are controversial and have been challenged in court.

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     European Society of Endocrinology

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