Researchers from the Utrecht University in the Netherlands have succeeded in diagnosing equine overtraining syndrome by measuring nocturnal growth hormone secretion.

Horse trainingThe prevalence of human and equine stress-related illnesses – such as overtaining syndrome – is increasing but, until now, no diagnostic test was available to determine overtraining syndrome with certainty.

However, the results of the Utrecht study offer the prospect for an improved treatment method for comparable stress related syndromes in humans, such as burnout.

Overtraining syndrome entails reduced performance despite the same or an increased level of training. The secretion of the nocturnal growth hormone is an indicator for overtraining syndrome. This hormone plays a role in both growth and stress.

The researchers were able to diagnose overtraining syndrome by measuring the amount of hormone present in the horse’s blood. The focus can now be placed on determining effective prevention and treatment methods.

Overtraining syndrome in humans
Among the more than 200 symptoms described for overtraining syndrome among athletes, not a single one has yet been determined to be specific to the disease’s clinical picture. As a result, it is still difficult to diagnose overtraining syndrome with certainty at an early stage.

For humans, a Profile of Mood State (POMS) assessment tool is used to diagnose overtraining syndrome. This assessment tool measures changes in behaviour and mental state, which so far appear to be the most reliable indicators of overtraining syndrome. Further study should reveal whether measuring nocturnal growth hormone secretion, as is done with horses, can also be applied to humans to diagnose stress-related illnesses, including overtraining syndrome and burnout.


Researchers of the Utrecht University Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in The Netherlands conducted the study in cooperation with Maastricht University, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the University of Virginia (US).

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