Category Archives: women

Masters Women's Health: Does low estrogen make women unresponsive to anti-depressants?

Depression may be caused by poor Serotonin handling

Don't let the blues get you down.  Get a womens power shirt instead.  This beautiful shirt features Botticelli's birth of spring expressing herself effortlessly with a set of 50 pound kettlebells.
Don’t let the blues get you down. Get a womens power shirt instead. This beautiful shirt features Botticelli’s birth of spring expressing herself effortlessly with a set of 50 pound kettlebells.

Depression stinks.  It hurts.  And it hurts others too. Taking care of yourself, and your moods, is important.  A positive outlook and sense of optimism can carry you a long way.  And it will help you bring along those you care about.  This article reports on some very interesting research on depression and hormones.  It is especially interesting for women whose hormones are shifting.  (in peri-menopause or menopause.)  Estrogen may be important for serotonin signalling.  Low estrogen may make it difficult for some women to respond to anti-depressants.

First, a little background:

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter
  • Serotonin allows neurons to communicate with each other.  And sometimes help produce emotions.
  • Depression in some people may be caused by too little serotonin
  • Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)  work by keeping serotonin active and keeping nerves functioning well.
  • Prozac, Zoloft, and Citalopram are examples of SSRIs.

There are differences in Serotonin Receptors

WODMASTERS Power Woman shirt with kettlebells.  Great shirt for crossfit
To hell with anxiety. Who cares when you’re wearing a WODMASTERS power woman shirt.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers.  They travel from one neuron to another by docking at a receptor.  The receptor is a molecule that is designed especially for its transmitter.  Serotonin needs a serotonin receptor if it is going to work.   The shape of the receptor is very important.  But not every person has the same receptor shape.  There are some people whose receptors don’t seem to fit as well.  And they are more likely to suffer from depression.  And anxiety.

Estrogen and Progesterone may be needed for SSRIs to work


Womens crossfit shirt with kettlebells feminine
Our lady of the Kettlebells with a touch of pink. Our Lady Hoists.

Estrogen and progesterone influence the serotonin system including serotonin receptors.  One of the genes responsible for the serotonin receptor is called 5HTT.  So far it looks like you can have either a “short”  version or a “long” version.  The short version (s-5HTT) looks like the problem version.  Monkey have similar systems.  Like Crossfit women.  Researchers used monkeys to see how important estrogen and progesterone are the response to SSRIs.   Monkeys with the shorter gene for the serotonin receptors did not have as strong a response to SSRIs.  Monkeys with low estrogen and low progesterone were the least responsive.  Crossfit women too?

Take away for CrossFit Masters Women and all Women

CrossFit Shirts for women with low and high estrogen
CrossFit Women are strong, resilient and beautiful Sometimes they have large shoulders.

If you are post-menopausal or hovering around that neighborhood you may not respond well to SSRIs.  Especially if you have the short version of the serotonin receptor gene.   This is one reason why hormone replacement therapy might make some women less depressed.  If you are on SSRIs and they are not working go see a doctor who knows his or her stuff.  A psychiatrist will know more than a family doctor.  Don’t be embarrassed.  CrossFit Women shouldn’t get embarrassed.  Embarrassment stinks.

Michopoulos V, Berga SL, & Wilson ME (2011). Estradiol and progesterone modify the effects of the serotonin reuptake transporter polymorphism on serotonergic responsivity to citalopram. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 19 (6), 401-8 PMID: 21843009

CrossFit Seven Athletes and The WODMasters Kettlebell Shirt

Five CrossFit Seven Super Models in Kettlebell shirts

Five members of the CrossFit Seven Super Model Team recently had a once in a life time opportunity to the first CrossFit Athletes to try out the latest WODMasters crossfit Shirts. As far as we know, this was the first modelling job any of them have ever had. Yet, here they are:

Crossfit shirt for women.  The American Mona Lisa Kettlebell Shirt
Hazel sports a WODMasters American Mona Lisa athletic top. A Kettlebell shirt.

Introducing Hazel.  You wouldn’t think it but Hazel has the most amazing blue eyes.  According to the rumor mill, she can also deadlift 490 pounds, has a 160 pound snatch and can run faster than the wind.  Here she is sporting a WODMasters American Mona Lisa and Her Kettlebell Shirt.  Hazel is tall, slender and strong.  She is wearing a size Medium.  The shirt itself is soft and form flattering, allowing for unfettered movement.  Hazel looks very stylish in this shirt, whether she is doing butterfly pull-ups, Turkish get ups or just staggering over to the water cooler post WOD.    Like Hazel, the shirt is quietly mischievous.


CrossFit Shirt Kettlebell Shirt Stars and Stripes Eye Pood ipood
Lori sports a WODMasters Stars and Stripes Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt

Introducing Lori:  Lori has been doing CrossFit for about two years.   Its hard to find models with lats, pecs and shoulders, but we finally found her.  Lori has been active in womens sports her entire life, and currently makes her living as an Athletic Trainer.   Lori’s WODMasters shirt features four layers of different colored early 19th century American flags with a central eye-bearing Kettlebell.  This is our American Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt design.   The shirt proudly announces that the wearer is a WODMASTER on the back.  The inside collar features our WODMasters Mona Lisa Logo.  Like Hazel’s shirt above, The American Eye Pood shirt is made from American Apparel Tri-Blend Track Fabric and has a form-flattering Athletic cut.


Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt Crossfit Shirt
The Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt

Introducing Anonymous.  This fit, beautiful mom-to-be is wearing our classic Eye Pood Kettlebell shirt design.  While not originally designed as CrossFit Maternity Wear, we think it looks pretty damn good on her.  The classic Eye Pood shirt is available for both men and women.  The mens Eye Pood Kettlebell shirts have an athletic mens cut.  The womens shirts are made from the same American Apparel Tri-Blend Fabric as our other new womens shirts.  They also have an athletic cut, lovely drape, and soft texture.   The Eye Pood Kettlebell shirts also say WODMASTER on the back and feature our WODMasters Mona Lisa design inside the back collar.

Bone Health and Osteoporosis: Ups and Downs of Bisphosphonates.

Bone Health and Osteoporosis Risks

CrossFit Bone Health and Osteoporosis.
A CrossFit Masters Athlete from CrossFit Bare Cove in Hingham, MA. takes care of her Bone Health.

If you are young you should eat well, not smoke, and get plenty of weight bearing exercise. Preferably starting from birth (which would be moving your little arms and legs.) There is a lot of research going on in Bone Health. We are learning about it at a rapid rate. This is exciting, but it also means there is a lot that is unknown. And our understanding may change. So far, the agreed Major risk factors for Osteoporosis include:

  • Being female (women lose bone at faster rates than men, and have less to start with)
  • Being white
  • Being small-boned
  • Smoking
  • Drinking
  • Poor nutrition
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Losing weight
  • Menopause

Bone Health Protection

  • Being black
  • Having a larger frame
  • Gaining weight (but can cause other health problems)
  • Good diet, not smoking, minimal alcohol intake
  • Weight bearing exercise
  • Being on hormone replacement therapy for menopause (but this increases risk of heart disease and breast cancer)
  • Sufficient vitamin D
  • Sufficient calcium intake

Some things are within our control.  Others are not.  If you are having bone loss you should consider taking bisphosphonates.


Bone Health and Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates are drugs used to prevent osteoporosis (excessive bone loss). Bone is living tissue. It is constantly replenishing and remodeling itself. Visualize a busy sculptor with modelling clay. If your body (sculptor) senses that bone is not under much stress it will stop paying so much attention to it and focus its energies somewhere else. Bisphosphonates block the cells that break down bone. Cells that produce bone are not bothered by bisphosphonates. This leads to thicker bones.

Bisphosphonates can make bone thicker, reducing hip fractures. They can also make bone more brittle. Some people who have been on bisphosphonates have suffered peculiar shattering of bones. Hip fractures are very dangerous, whether you have osteoporosis. Especially for older people who do not heal as quickly as young people. If you are over age 50 there is a 25% chance that a hip fracture will kill. The odds are worse for the elderly and frail. If you are thinking of taking a bisphosphonate drug to prevent osteoporosis you should probably think about the odds of getting a “traditional” hip fracture vs. a bisphosphonate fracture. The odds of getting a bisphosphonate-type fracture are quite small compared to the risk of getting a traditional hip fracture. Easy choice?  Not yet.

Bisphosphonates and other health risks and benefits.

Bisphophonates may improve “bone health”. They are also associated with

  • Cancer of the Esophogus
  • Atrial Fibrillation (this seems to be more of a risk with intravenous administration)
  • Decreased risk of colorectal cancer (Yea!)
  • Decreased risk of stroke. (Yea)
  • Disintegration of the jaw and tooth problems.
  • Making you feel crappy.   If you take bisphosphonates you should sit quietly for 30-60 minutes afterward.  This will reduce the risk of damage to the esophogus.

Bone Health, Bisphosphonates and Duration of Treatment

Your doctor may recommend that you take bisphosphonates for several years (maybe 5) and then stop for a year or two.  You would be monitored during your “vacation” time to see if your bone has stabilized.  If you start to lose bone again, your doctor may put you back on bisphosphonates.

Meanwhile, continue to eat well and exercise.  Think about giving CrossFit a try too.

I hope this helps.

Here are a few references.  There are many more.

Thosani, N., Thosani, S., Kumar, S., Nugent, Z., Jimenez, C., Singh, H., & Guha, S. (2012). Reduced Risk of Colorectal Cancer With Use of Oral Bisphosphonates: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Journal of Clinical Oncology, 31 (5), 623-630 DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2012.42.9530

Kang JH, Keller JJ, & Lin HC (2012). A population-based 2-year follow-up study on the relationship between bisphosphonates and the risk of stroke. Osteoporosis international : a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA, 23 (10), 2551-7 PMID: 22270858

Kang JH, Keller JJ, & Lin HC (2013). Bisphosphonates reduced the risk of acute myocardial infarction: a 2-year follow-up study. Osteoporosis international : a journal established as result of cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA, 24 (1), 271-7 PMID: 23152093

Watts, N., & Diab, D. (2010). Long-Term Use of Bisphosphonates in Osteoporosis Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 95 (4), 1555-1565 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2009-1947

Hormone Replacement Therapy for Depression.

Women, Depression, Hormones and Anti-Depressants

We lift weights.  Eat well.  Get lots of exercise.  All these things help us keep a positive outlook.  But sometimes the world just seems to fall apart.  Here is some interesting news.  The female hormones, Estrogen and Progesterone, influence mood.  If you have PMS you can snort now.  But here’s more news.  Its about Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).  SSRIs (a class of anti-depressant) work better if levels of estrogen and progesterone are fairly high.  If those hormones are low or headed downhill (in peri-menopause or menopause.) you might not respond well to Prozac, Zoloft, Citalopram or other SSRIs.

First, a little background:

  • Serotonin is a neurotransmitter
  • Serotonin allows neurons to talk to one another
  • Depression in some people may be caused not having enough serotonin
  • SSRIs work by keeping serotonin active so nerves can do their thing.

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More info on Neurotransmitters and Depression.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers.    In order for them to work they need to hit a receptor and attach to it. Serotonin requires a serotonin receptor.    There are special genes for the receptors.  Some people have slight differences in the DNA responsible for the shape of their receptors.  Their receptor genes are a little different than most.  For these people receptors and serotonin don’t seem to fit as well.  These people are more prone to depression and anxiety.  SSRIs are used to treat depression and anxiety.

CrossFit Woman Shirt
CrossFit Woman Shirt. Venus and her Kettlebells

Women may need Estrogen and Progesterone for their Serotonin System to Work Well.

Estrogen and progesterone (female hormones) may have strong effects on serotonin function.   Monkeys have similar serotonin systems.  Like a CrossFit woman.  A 2011 study found that monkeys without much estrogen and progesterone did not react much to an SSRI.  Monkeys with estrogen and progesterone did.   Monkeys with the “not so good” version of the serotonin receptor did not respond as much.    Monkeys with low estrogen and low progesterone, and the not-so-good receptor were the least responsive.

Take away .

There may be a reason why you feel like the world is falling apart.  You might be down because you lost your job.  Got dumped by the man in your life.  Have obnoxious teenage children.  Or failed at a snatch that should have been no problem.  However, if you are post-menopausal or hovering around that neighborhood you may not respond well to SSRIs.  Which means you may stay depressed even though you are taking anti-depressants.  Especially if you have the not-so-good version of the serotonin receptor.

Hormone replacement therapy might help some women with depression.  Or women with low estrogen/low progesterone may need to try a different type of anti-depressant.   If you are depressed and meds are not helping go see a doctor.  Tell them about this article if you want.

Michopoulos V, Berga SL, & Wilson ME (2011). Estradiol and progesterone modify the effects of the serotonin reuptake transporter polymorphism on serotonergic responsivity to citalopram. Experimental and clinical psychopharmacology, 19 (6), 401-8 PMID: 21843009

Hormones: Exercise changes estrogens and reduces risk of breast cancer

Hormones and Research for Women’s Health. Hormones are powerful molecules. They are chemical messengers. And they exert powerful effects in many different ways. Changes in hormones effect athletic ability. They also effect flexibility and endurance. But exercise seems to changes hormones as well. There is some interesting news on exercise and estrogen. Estrogens are female sex hormones. If you are a woman, someone who cares about or works with women, you should know why sex hormones like estrogen matter.

The basics of why hormones and exercise matter for breast cancer.

There is a lot of interesting stuff coming out about estrogen. Especially about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for masters women. We will follow up with additional articles.  There is a lot to cover.  For now, sex hormones (estrogen in this case) matter for maintaining muscle, skin, connective tissue, and brain function.  The way hormones are metabolized may matter for cancer.

Fit women are less likely to get breast cancer.  Among other things.  We have long known that exercise is good for people.  But we generally know little about why. Estrogen breaks down as part of normal metabolism.  An estrogen molecule that is metabolized is transformed into different molecules.  These estrogen metabolites have actions of their own.  Who knew?  One of the estrogen metabolites decreases a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

Exercise, Hormones and Breast Cancer.

A new paper (Kurzer et al. 2013) compared the breakdown of estrogen in women who exercise with those who were sedentary.    Women who exercise moderately to vigorously for about 30 minutes a day, produced more of the metabolite that decreases risk of breast cancer.  While this study does not prove these changes reduce the risk of breast cancer it is very interesting. The study opens doors for new studies.  This study was done with young women.  And they were walking, using an elipitical machine, or a stairmaster.   Would the change in estrogen handling be seen in CrossFit Women?  In High Intensity Interval Training (HIT)? With weights?  Would the same results be seen with older women?  With women on estrogen replacement therapy?  Hopefully we will soon be seeing more work done on hormones, exercise and cancer risk.   In the meanwhile, keep working out.  And keep encouraging the people you care about.  Details of the study are available in the link below.

Smith AJ, Phipps WR, Thomas W, Schmitz KH, & Kurzer MS (2013). The effects of aerobic exercise on estrogen metabolism in healthy premenopausal women. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 22 (5), 756-64 PMID: 23652373


Crossfit Training: Women require different rest strategies for strength and competition.

250x400 Birth of Venus Banner
Birth of Venus Shirt for Crossfit Women and all kinds of other Strong Women

CrossFit women and men may differ in need for rest after WODs.  Or strength training. This may be important as athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games. Women lose strength faster than men when they take time off.  Muscle mass seems to stay the same for both when athletes reduce training for 7 days. The responsiveness of rested muscle fibers to electrical stimulation also seems to stay the same. However, women still lose more strength than men during rest periods. Rest periods are sometimes referred to as “unloading.” A new paper on why this happens suggests its nerves.  Not muscle tissue. The study looked at 7 and 14 day unloading periods. This is a long rest period for CrossFit athletes. But common among weightlifters.  Many athletes will be unloading prior to The Games. Weight training causes changes in muscle tissue. That is pretty obvious.  However, it also produces changes in nerve function. Nerves adapt and become more efficient. They become better able to recruit cells and coordinate their actions.  And make a trained person able to lift more weight.   Or a CrossFit athlete better able to do a WOD.  The larger loss of strength in women seems to be rooted in the central nervous system.   Women’s neurons may be quicker to let down their guard. This may mean that women should take shorter rest periods than men in order to maintain strength. And shorter rests before competitions.

What about Masters CrossFit and Masters Athletes?

Most studies are done using young volunteers.  There are usually a lot of them hanging around Universities.  And someone needs to collect and analyze the data.  This is often left to middle-age and older academics.  This means there is a lot less information for Masters athletes.  There is very good evidence though that neuro-muscular function improves with training in middle and older age.  It looks the same for men and women.  So keep at it.

The Take-Away: Women may need shorter unloading periods before competition than men.

Masters Athletes:  Use your judgement.

Deschenes MR, McCoy RW, & Mangis KA (2012). Factors relating to gender specificity of unloading-induced declines in strength. Muscle & nerve, 46 (2), 210-7 PMID: 22806370

Women should train for pull-ups for more than three months".

A recent New York Times blog post was entitled “why women can’t do pullups.”  Another news article states “even fit women can’t do pull-ups“.  These are interesting headlines, especially to women who can do pullups. The headlines refer to a study at the University of Dayton (can’t find the study itself, sorry) that attempted to train women to do pull-ups over a short period of time.

Women and girls work on pull-ups at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Yes, women and girls can do pull-ups.  The study mentioned in the Times only looked at women who could not do pull-ups to begin with, and then only trained them for three months.  Three months may not be a long enough training period. Hanging by your fingers and pulling your entire body weight up is not an everyday activity for most people.  It is not only muscles that would need conditioning, but tendons too.  And possibly the neural circuits that would be able to figure out “yes, I can do this action without tearing myself.” and allow the action to proceed.

“Women can’t do pull-ups” vs. “Women should train for pull-ups for more than three months.”


Even so, nearly 25% of the women who completed the training were able to do at least one pull-up after three months.  I wish the headline had read “Most women should train for pull-ups for more than three months.”  For me, my ability to hold onto the bar seems to be the limiting factor.  I tend to drop off after 20 or so even though I’m not fatigued muscle-wise.   If you are working on pull-ups keep at it and don’t let words like “women can’t do pull-ups” discourage you.   The most important factor in pull-ups may be lean body mass (Johnson et al. 2009.)  Not gender. Not body fat (although this will matter too.) Women will have less lean body mass (for the most part) than men.  And that takes time and effort to build.  Especially for women. But this doesn’t mean you can’t work up to it.
Be stubborn.  That goes for men too.

As far as the researchers who did the study are concerned, please note that research is often grabbed and misrepresented by well-meaning journalists.  We are glad they are studying women and fitness.  Hope to hear more from them in the future.  If only the headlines had read “many women cannot do pull-ups after training for 12 weeks at the University of Dayton” instead of “women can’t do pull-ups.”

A very tall husband-wife team bend their knees to avoid hitting the ground while doing pull-ups.

Johnson D, Lynch J, Nash K, Cygan J, & Mayhew JL (2009). Relationship of lat-pull repetitions and pull-ups to maximal lat-pull and pull-up strength in men and women. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 23 (3), 1022-8 PMID: 19387371

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How does age influence performance in the Crossfit Games?

Sharp, experienced and stubborn as hell.

We’ve been struggling to write this without sounding overwhelmingly geeky and don’t think its working.  So, let’s just do this:

Partial data from the 2011 CrossFit Games (in this case,
women ages 40-44 who finished in the top 1000) affords an interesting outlook on performance by age.  Would that all data were available.  What is most obvious is that numbers of participants appears to decline with age.    There were a lot more 40 year olds in the top 1000 than there were women aged 41-44. This may reflect a number of different things.

  1. Fewer women participate in sports in general as they enter their 40s.
  2. There are fewer women participating in this sort of activity.  
  3. There may be more attrition due to injuries
  4. People mellow out in terms of giving that much of a $hit after age 40 about competing.  

It does look like the 40 year olds did better than the rest.  The top three 40 year old performers placed 23rd, 33rd and 82nd overall while the top three 41 year olds placed 463rd, 509th and 520th.  That is a huge drop.  Things were a little better for the top 42 year olds at 255th, 309th and 476th overall. 43 year olds gained a little more ground placing 220th, 230th and 438th and then the 44 year olds dumped it placing 387th, 710th and 963rd.  Studies of trained athletes by age show a modest decline in performance after age 40 followed by pretty good maintenance until age 70 when there is another larger drop.  Good news is that there’s no reason why we can’t continue to enjoy beating ourselves into the ground.  Give it some more thought at 70, and don’t take a drop in performance around that age personally.  Its not you.